In the past three weeks, stock markets such as the Dow Jones and the FTSE in London have lost more than 25 percent of their values. Meanwhile the world economy has been grinding to a halt. Unemployment is creeping up in one country after another. Capitalism is in a crisis on a world scale. The ruling class is blaming the crisis on the novel coronavirus. But this virus is only bringing to the surface contradictions which have been building up for decades within the capitalist system.
This is opening up a new historical period of turmoil, instability and intense class struggle. You can more about our analysis of the consequences of the crisis here. The below draft document was prepared in the autumn of 2019 and passed by the International Executive Committee of the International Marxist Tendency in January 2020. Despite being prepared far before the present events, it outlines all of the underlying contradictions which are now revealing themselves in the current crisis. We recommend all of our readers to read this document in order to better understand the present sitation.
The Communist Manifesto opens with a celebrated sentence: “A spectre is haunting Europe.” That was in 1848, a year of revolutionary upheavals in Europe. But now a spectre is haunting, not just Europe, but the whole world. It is the spectre of revolution. World revolution is not just an empty phrase. It accurately describes the new stage into which we are entering.
Let us just recall the events of the past twelve months. Revolutionary upheavals broke out in France, Catalonia, Iran, Sudan, Algeria, Tunisia, Hong Kong, Ecuador, Chile, Haiti, Iraq and Lebanon where the masses took to the streets and general strikes paralysed the countries. In Venezuela, we had the defeat of a determined counterrevolutionary coup, backed by US imperialism.
In France, the movement of the gilets jaunes took all the bourgeois commentators by surprise. Before this mass uprising, everything seemed to be going to plan for the “political Centre” in the person of Emmanuel Macron. His reforms (in reality counter-reforms) were going through smoothly. The trade union leaders were behaving responsibly (i.e., capitulating). This was rudely interrupted when the masses took to the streets in the best revolutionary traditions of France, and shook the government to the core. This movement of millions of people seemed to come from nowhere, like a thunderbolt from a clear blue sky.
Exactly the same was true in Hong Kong. Anyone with any doubt about the revolutionary potential that exists today should study those events carefully. Before this, the men in Beijing and their local agents seemed to be in complete control. Yet here was a mighty mass movement of millions, challenging a formidable dictatorship on the streets. And like the movement in France, it seemed to come out of nowhere. The same was the case with every one of the mass movements that erupted in one country after another.
Trotsky once said that theory is the superiority of foresight over astonishment. The sudden, violent manifestations of popular discontent always take the bourgeoisie and its hired “experts” by surprise. That is because the bourgeois “experts” have no theory (except the theory that all theory is useless) and therefore are consistently astonished when events suddenly blow up in their faces. The shallow empiricists of the bourgeoisie only look at the surface of events (the “facts”). They do not trouble themselves to look beneath the surface to uncover the deeper processes that are at work everywhere.
If it were a question of one or two countries, it might be objected that these were accidental phenomena – transient episodes, from which no general conclusions could be drawn. But when we see exactly the same process occurring in one country after another, we no longer have any right to dismiss it as an accident. Rather, these developments are a manifestation of the same general process, reflecting the same underlying laws and tendencies.
The molecular process of revolution
In the future, the period through which we are passing will be seen as a moment of fundamental change, a turning point in the whole situation. Not long ago, this assertion appeared to be contradicted by the facts. The world economy seemed to be trundling on. But now events are accelerating at breathtaking speed. Only the dialectical method of Marxism can provide a rational explanation of processes to which the hopeless bourgeois empirics are completely blind.
How does one explain such phenomena? And what do they represent? Superficial observers and empiricists are struck dumb by events that they did not anticipate and for which they have no explanation. Dialectics teaches us that, sooner or later, things change into their opposite. An excellent example of this is Britain. Just six years ago, Britain was regarded as the most stable country in Europe, maybe the world – now it has been completely turned upside down and is probably the most unstable country in Europe. The “mother of parliaments” was once famous for its calm serenity, but it was suddenly convulsed by crisis, division and absolute chaos.
In order to arrive at a real understanding of these subterranean processes, the dialectical method of analysis is absolutely necessary. The bourgeois naturally have no understanding of dialectics; the reformists have even less, if that is possible. There is no need to mention the sects in this respect, since they understand nothing at all. Their complete lack of any perspective is the main reason why they are all in crisis.
Trotsky coined a really remarkable phrase: “The molecular process of revolution.” It is worth giving some thought to that phrase. Trotsky was referring to dialectics, and without an understanding of dialectics, one cannot understand anything. The process of a change in consciousness in the masses normally takes place gradually. It grows slowly, imperceptibly, but also inexorably, until it reaches a tipping point where quantity changes into quality and things change into their opposite.
Over long periods it expresses itself as a slow accumulation of discontent, anger, rage and, above all, frustration below the surface. Here and there, there are symptoms, small signals that can only be understood by a trained observer who can see what they signify. But this is a book sealed with seven seals to the thick-headed empiricist, who, while always insisting on “the facts”, is blind to the more profound underlying processes.
The philosopher Heraclitus expressed his contempt for empiricists, when he wrote sarcastically: “Eyes and ears are bad witnesses for men who have souls that understand not their language.” No matter how many facts and statistics they accumulate, they always miss the point.
Ever since the crisis of 2008-09, there has been a slow process, a gradual accumulation of discontent. That crisis represented a fundamental break in the whole situation internationally. And it was a break in every sense of the word. Now we can see the molecular process of revolution that Trotsky talked about. This is a silent, invisible process. It’s something intangible you can’t put your finger on, because it takes place beneath the surface. But it’s there all the time, burrowing away like a mole.
In France, ever since October 2018 and the beginning of the gilets jaunes movement, we saw clearly how a revolutionary potential exists. Even Brexit, in a peculiar way, shows the same process. In Italy, the same sense exists, a profound mood against the establishment. But we also saw how the so-called Left completely failed to provide any organised expression to that revolutionary mood.
Sudden and sharp changes are implicit in the situation. Such sudden explosions are a symptom of the underlying current of accumulated rage and discontent of millions of people, which is actually directed against the system. They are a clear symptom that the capitalist system has entered into a deep crisis on a global scale. These are the tremors that herald the approaching earthquake.
Lenin said that politics is concentrated economics. In the last analysis, economics is the decisive factor – if there was a perspective of a prolonged and sustained boom, that would change the situation, the bourgeois would have room to manoeuvre and give concessions to the working class. But that is not the perspective.
The economic question has been dealt with extensively in previous documents, so we limit ourselves here to a brief update. The discussion of economics is, of course, very important, but it is not the only factor.
For Marxists the importance of economics is its effects on consciousness. But consciousness is a very elastic thing. In general, it is very conservative, shaped not only by present conditions, but also, very strongly, by the past. Take the consciousness of workers in the advanced capitalist countries, such as Europe and North America. That was shaped by decades of capitalist economic upswing.
Of course, there were booms and slumps even then. But the slumps (or “recessions” as they were called) were shallow and not long-lasting, and they were followed by a serious recovery. It was these material conditions – virtual full employment, rising living standards and significant reforms in pensions, health and education, that enormously increased illusions in capitalism. This was the fundamental reason for the delay of socialist revolution in the advanced capitalist countries, and the isolation of the Marxist revolutionary vanguard for a whole historical period.
This was particularly true in the United States, when capitalism seemed to be delivering the goods. Therefore, the workers looked at the situation and said “Well, it’s not too bad” and when they looked at the bureaucratic and totalitarian regimes in Russia, Eastern Europe and China, what they saw repelled them. The capitalists could say, “Look! That is what socialism looks like – you want to go over there?” And the workers would shake their heads and say: “Better stick with the devil you know…”
The concessions made at this time also explains the enormous strength of reformism in Western Europe. The reformists carried out important reforms, like the National Health Service in Britain. But now, dialectically, everything has turned into its opposite. The crisis of capitalism is also the crisis of reformism.
An anaemic “recovery”
The financial journals inform us that the present recovery is the longest in history. But they fail to add that it is also the weakest in history. The world economy, according to the IMF, has passed from a situation where two years ago 75 percent of the global economy was in a state of synchronised growth to one today where 90 percent finds itself in a synchronised slowdown, the slowest level of growth in a decade.
Although the economy was apparently going forward and everything seemed to be in order, in the articles of the serious bourgeois economists and political economists there was a serious note of concern, which was rapidly turning into one of general alarm. The recovery was in any case very feeble and fragile, and any shock could push the economy over the edge. Virtually anything can provoke a panic: a rise in interest rates in the USA, Brexit, a clash with Russia, the aggravation of the trade war between the USA and China, a war in the Middle East leading to rising oil prices, and even a particularly stupid tweet from the White House (and there is no shortage of them).
Germany is the main motor force of the European economy. But in June 2019, German industrial production registered its biggest annual decline in almost a decade, a clear indication of the severity of the manufacturing slump in Europe’s largest economy. There is also an economic slowdown in China and the United States. This, in turn, is a reflection of the weakness of the world economy, where world trade, according to the WTO, was projected to grow in 2019 by only 1.2 percent, only half of what it originally predicted.
Now, all the serious economists are singing a different song. The word “recession” is written on every page. “The global economy is teetering on the edge,” writes the Financial Times. The extreme volatility of the stock markets is an indication of the nervousness of the capitalists. It is, of course, impossible to predict the date of the next slump with any degree of accuracy. But there is one thing we can be sure of – a new slump is inevitable and it will likely be far worse than the last.
It is true that the ruling class possesses certain instruments to mitigate the effects of a slump once it has taken place. What are these mechanisms? They are basically two: lower the cost of borrowing in order to stimulate investment and demand and boost “confidence”. The other weapon is to increase state expenditure.
The problem is that they have used up all these instruments to keep the feeble recovery alive. During the slump in 2008, they slashed interest rates in all countries in a desperate attempt to get the economy moving, which has failed. By 2014, the US Federal reserve alone had thrown $3.6 trillion in cheap credit into the economy via the Quantitative Easing programme – that is, by printing money. The big corporations in America and other countries have been fed a continuous supply of cheap credits. But in general, the funds obtained are not used for productive investment (productivity is either stagnant or falling). Instead, they use it for mergers, stock buy-backs, speculation, etc.
This recovery is built on a mountain of debt. Sooner or later, mountains experience avalanches. The bourgeois economists are terrified of the coming crisis, because once it starts, they will not be able to stop it. And the huge indebtedness means that the second instrument for getting out of a slump (state expenditure) is no longer a feasible option.
The timid attempts at reining in Quantitative Easing in the US pushed up interest rates and increased the value of the dollar, putting enormous pressure on dollar-denominated debts. In countries such as Turkey and Argentina this has already led to serious economic crises, but a similar crisis is brewing throughout the world, in particular in less advanced countries.
Global debt stands at an all-time high, with half of it in the hands of Japan, the US, and China. At this point, the bourgeoisie is faced with an insoluble contradiction. On the one hand, they are struggling to reduce the burden of debt. But on the other hand, they are beginning to understand the serious social and political consequences of a decade of cuts and reduction in living standards. The patience of the masses is being exhausted and social cohesion is being undermined to a degree that is beginning to threaten social stability.
A section of the ruling class, fearing an increase in the class struggle, is in favour of easing up on austerity, even at the cost of increased government borrowing. And faced with an upsurge in the class struggle, it is likely that they will begin to make concessions. But this will only increase the contradictions, and in the long run will lead to future crises and a sharp reduction in state expenditure and the drying up of credit. Thus, no matter what economic policies are attempted, all roads lead to a new recession.
Ever since the crash of 2008, the central banks have tried to promote growth by keeping interest rates at a historically low level. This has often meant a level of zero percent or below. This was intended to stimulate credit and boost investment. But it has failed to deliver the anticipated results. Cheap credit acts like a drug addiction – the more it is used the less of an effect it has. Bonds worth more than $15tn are trading with negative yields.
In 1960, according to one measurement, total debt on a world scale was around 90 percent of world GDP. It was a bit higher in the US, where it was around 140 percent. Today however, overall global debt has reached the all-time high of $253 trillion, 322 percent of world GDP, and 355 percent in the USA (2019 figures). Debt was the way that the capitalists got out of the crisis of the 1970s and 1980s, but it has now prepared the way for an even bigger crisis. The longer they postpone the slump by expanding credit (and therefore debt), the worse it will be when the evil day finally arrives – and arrive it will.
The threat of a trade war
Several time bombs are ticking away simultaneously: trade wars, the debt crisis, slowdown in China, Brexit and the Euro crisis, international tensions and the threat of war in the Middle East. As we have seen, any one of these can be the spark that causes an explosion. The bourgeois will be left defenceless, between a rock and a very hard place. Certain things inevitably flow from these facts.
In the decades before 2008, strong economic growth in China provided a stimulus for the global economy. It was both a market for western goods and a profitable field of investment. But now, dialectically, everything is turning into its opposite. In 2018, growth in China was 6.6 percent, although many economists suspect it was actually lower. The 2019 figure of 6.1 percent was the slowest growth in the Chinese economy since 1992.
China’s growth may still seem high when compared to the miserable rates of growth in Europe and even the USA, but it is far less than the growth rates achieved in past decades. It is generally accepted that China needs to achieve an annual average rate of 8 percent – and create 15-20 million new jobs every year – just to keep up with the migration of people to the cities from the countryside. Until recently consumers in China and the U.S. continued to spend, perhaps encouraged by talk of a recovery. But this trend is nearing its end. One early warning sign was the record slump in car sales in China. For China, therefore, the slowdown prepares social convulsions.
With the introduction of the market economy, China has also imported all the contradictions of capitalism. Its very successes in churning out vast quantities of commodities have created the basis for a crisis of overproduction, since these commodities must find a market, and the internal market in China is too narrow to absorb them.
China is suffering from overproduction – with huge factories for the production of steel, cars and many other products – and the only way out is to export.
China has exported large amounts of surplus steel to Europe, which helps to undermine the European steel industry. Cheap Chinese steel has been a major factor in the destruction of the steel industry in Britain. Giant factories that provided work for whole communities, like Port Talbot in South Wales, which used to be known as the city of steel, are facing closure. This is what is behind the growing tensions that have resulted in the trade war between America and China. Incidentally, it would not be correct to attribute this to Donald Trump. Although he has made the most noise about the issue, suspicion and mistrust towards China is pretty general in Congress, including in the ranks of the Democrats.
Trump has a simple answer to all this. He is asserting US power. US imperialism is flexing its muscles, threatening to crush its rivals, starting with China. But Europe is also in his sights. His field of battle is protectionism, his chosen weapon, increased tariffs. But this slippery path has led to an escalating trade war that could have a devastating knock on effect throughout the world economy.
Worried economists are already starting to work out “war game” scenarios for how a recession could happen. Their fears are mainly centred on the threat to the world economy posed by increased tariffs. It is true that in the immediate term, the direct costs of those tariffs may well be small, but the uncertainty created by a further escalation of the trade war would adversely affect investment, hiring and ultimately consumption, contracting demand. Cause becomes effect, and effect becomes cause, producing a sharp downward spiral on a global scale. The whole process of globalisation, which has been a major factor in the growth of the world economy for a whole period, would be thrown into reverse, with catastrophic consequences.
Morgan Stanley economists predict that if the U.S. puts 25 percent tariffs on all Chinese imports for four to six months and China retaliates, a global economic contraction is likely within three quarters. The waves created would extend far beyond the U.S. and China, hitting Asia, Europe and dragging the whole world economy into recession. This is a very alarming development for the bourgeois. It threatens to tear apart the very fragile fabric of world trade, which has been the main driving force behind the growth of the world economy for decades.
It is not at all clear how the present spat with China will end. The Chinese and US economies have become interlinked over many years. There will be a section of the US capitalist class, particularly those directly producing in China, which will oppose an escalation. But it is difficult to predict the actions of a President who has no long-term strategy, but who appears to enjoy lurching from one crisis to another. Trump is unpredictable. That is one reason why the bourgeois do not like him. He blows hot and cold as the mood takes him, which increases the general instability in world affairs.
One minute, Trump is denouncing “Little Rocket Man” and threatening to wipe North Korea off the face of the earth. The next he is embracing Kim Jong Un and praising him as a man of peace and a great friend. One minute he is trying to reach a deal with China, the next, he announces punishing new tariffs on all Chinese goods. The problem with a trade war is that it’s easy to start but not so easy to finish. It tends to spiral, as we see with China’s retaliation.
If globalisation is halted by the spread of economic nationalism and trade wars, the upward trend can easily turn into a sharp downward spiral, with catastrophic consequences for the whole world. We have pointed out that it was the surge of protectionist tendencies – similar to the kind of “beggar-my-neighbour” approach of Donald Trump today and the competitive devaluations – that turned the Wall Street Crash of 1929 into the Great Depression of the 1930s. It is not at all impossible that a similar scenario could recur today.
The US economy was the final remaining pillar holding up the global economy. On the surface, it would seem that the US economy was doing rather well. The Dow Jones is at a record high. The S&P 500 ballooned by 334 percent and the NASDAQ by nearly 500 percent. But appearances can be deceptive. In reality, the US economy was in a very weak state. Nothing had been solved since 2008 and the capitalists were only preparing the ground for an even more devastating crisis.
It is now beginning to totter. In December 2007, the peak before the 2008 crash, industrial capacity utilisation stood at 81 percent. By June 2009, the trough of the last boom-slump cycle, just 66 percent was being utilised. Today, ten years later, it’s at 78 percent. In other words, after the “longest recovery” in history they have not even recovered the pre-crisis levels of capacity utilisation. Meanwhile, consumer sentiment has fallen to its lowest level in eight years. US manufacturing has slipped into negative figures. Export orders are the lowest since April 2009. Even if the Federal Reserve were to cut rates by 50 basis points, it would be too late to avoid a recession.
US GDP growth in 2018 was just 2.9 percent, driven by deficit spending. It was just 2.2 percent the year before that, driven by Trump’s tax cuts for the rich. The national debt is now $22 trillion, more than double what it was in 2008. That amounts to $68,000 per US citizen, or $182,000 per taxpayer. That’s nearly four times the median wage, and it’s increasing at a rate of $1 trillion per year.
The tax cuts and the Federal Reserve’s historically low interest rates have been used to stimulate the economy in an attempt to stave off the next slump. But by using these tools to artificially prolong the boom they now don’t have them available for the next downturn, and we can be sure the public’s appetite for corporate bailouts will be much reduced.
Now all the economic indicators are pointing in the direction of a new slump, which is inevitable. Of course, it is not possible to say when that will occur – economics is not an exact science. But the fact is that a new slump is not at all necessary for the intensification of the class struggle. From our point of view, it would be preferable for the present situation to continue. They talk about a recovery, but it doesn’t feel like one. Nobody believes it.
How many American workers are saying how wonderful things are now? Wages are increasing for some, it is true, but so are the hours of work needed to pay the bills. And the present increases do not make up for a whole period when wages were held down. Most American workers couldn’t support themselves and their families with one job. They have to work long hours, and they need to take two or three jobs to survive. And the anger and bitterness of the workers are increasing all the time.
Many American workers do not feel the benefits of the “recovery” at all. What they can see is the obscene inequality, the vast abyss that separates the tiny group of super-rich from the great majority who are struggling to stay afloat. Over the last three decades, the wealth of the top one percent rose by $21 trillion, while the poorest 50 percent saw their net worth fall by $900 billion. (According to Federal Reserve data.)
78 percent of Americans live from payday to payday. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. A single mother with two children earning the federal minimum would need to work nearly 24 hours a day for six days a week, or 144 hours a week, to earn a living wage. This is insanity and totally untenable – and that this is the situation in the “good times.”
The Trump phenomenon
There is an old saying that a people gets the government it deserves. In his brilliant article Class, Party and Leadership, Trotsky pointed out that this statement contains a fallacy. One and the same people can often experience very different kinds of government, which merely reflects different stages in the development of consciousness. However, one could say with absolute justification that at the present time the bourgeoisie has got the leaders it deserves.
When the American bourgeoisie looks in the mirror, it sees the face of Donald Trump and turns away in horror. They do not like what they see, but it is a faithful reflection of their own degeneration and that of their system. The bourgeois of today have no great ideas and no long-term perspective. They can see no further than the latest balance sheet that informs them of their profit margins.
This repulsive picture sums up not only Donald J Trump, but also the class to which he belongs and whose interests he represents. The only thing that distinguishes him is that he expresses the prejudices of his class openly, brazenly, without blushing, while others who share exactly the same outlook and defend exactly the same class interests, are more circumspect, more diplomatic, that is to say, more cowardly, hypocritical and deceptive.
The election of Trump in the United States was of course, a reactionary phenomenon. There is hardly any point in making that statement. But it also had another side to it. Trump was not the candidate of the ruling class. He was not trusted – yet he was elected in spite of the implacable opposition of the bourgeoisie.
In the past, the bourgeoisie used to control the political game. But that is no more the case. What we see now is an unprecedented situation, where the bourgeoisie, in effect, has lost direct control of its own system. When has there ever been a situation in the entire history of the United States, where sections of the CIA and the FBI were publicly in opposition to an elected President and constantly manoeuvring to remove him?
This is not just a political crisis. It is a crisis of the regime itself. It signifies an open split in the ruling class. And Lenin’s first condition for revolution is precisely that. The discontent of the masses can be expressed in very peculiar and contradictory ways. In a most peculiar, distorted way, even the election of Trump was in part an expression of massive discontent on the part of a significant section of the poorest, dispossessed layers of the white working class. Trump appealed to the unemployed miners and steelworkers, demagogically attacking the privileged elite in Washington and promising a change. That message got a powerful echo. But Trump’s popularity is under very serious strain.
Socialism and the USA
It is not clear whether Trump will be re-elected. Although he still retains a significant base of support, he has also alienated many people with his overtly racist, misogynist and xenophobic rhetoric. There was a national furore over the “send them back” statements. And he was further damaged by his reaction to the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio.
A report from the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group (VSG), found that even voters who are inclined to anti-immigration views are not necessarily pro-Trump. They are split between those who favour less government intervention in the economy, and those who hold more left-wing, interventionist economic views. According to the poll, these differences have grown sharper since Trump’s election. The economy remains the key issue. Trump has claimed full credit for the success of his economic policies. In fact, his handling of the economy is the only area where he has more than 50 percent approval (55 percent). However, the flipside to this is that he will also get a lot of the blame if and when things go wrong.
The temporary effects of his tax cuts to the rich have already run their course. Now what people can see is a slowdown in the economy, and growing signs that his trade war with China will fail to produce the historic deal he promised during his 2016 presidential campaign. An economic recession would finally burst his bubble. But the timing of that is unsure. Above all, the Democrats cannot provide an effective alternative to Trump.
For the past three decades there was a significant decline in the annual number of strikes in the US, along with a steep fall in union membership. But now that process is reaching its limits. There have even been a handful of political strikes and walkouts, protesting sexual harassment, the gender pay gap, collaboration with the immigration detention arm of the government, and legislation aiming to privatize education. And it is only the beginning, though it won’t be a linear process.
By the end of 2018, the number of US workers involved in major work stoppages, which includes strikes and lockouts, was the highest since 1986. There were twenty stoppages that involved 1,000 or more workers, compared to just seven in 2017. More than 90 percent of the roughly half-a-million workers involved were in education, health care, and social assistance industries. Thousands more participated in smaller strikes and struggles not reflected in these figures. There was a whole series of teachers’ strikes that spread from West Virginia to Oklahoma, Arizona, California, and beyond, as the struggles and victories of others inspired similar actions around the country. This was followed by the very significant strike of the autoworkers.
On the political plane, we saw the rise of Sanders and the increased popularity of socialism amongst a growing layer of people in the US, particularly the youth. Sanders, in spite of his remaining within the Democratic Party, and capitulation to Clinton when he was prevented from standing in the 2016 elections, still has the support of huge numbers with his attacks on the ‘billionaire class’. Sanders still attracts tens of thousands to his rallies. But he, and others like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have the illusion that you can advance the cause of socialism through the Democratic Party. They are at best reformists. However, their popularity reflects, in a distorted way, the search for an alternative to the system to the left.
When the economy goes down, there will be a big reaction against Trump, and what will they look to then? They will see socialism is part of the answer. It is no accident that Trump is now attacking socialism and communism. According to recent polls (Findings from the Cato Institute 2019 Welfare, Work, and Wealth National Survey):
50 percent of young Americans (under 30) are favourable to socialism;
70 percent of Millennials (23 to 38 years of age) would vote for a socialist candidate;
36 percent of Millennials have a favourable opinion of Communism (up from 28 percent in 2018);
35 percent of Millennials have a favourable opinion of Marxism.
About one in five Millennials think society would be better off if all private property were abolished. (US Attitudes Toward Socialism, Communism, and Collectivism October 2019). And almost a fifth (17 percent) of Americans agree that “citizens taking violent action against the rich” is sometimes justified – that rises to 35 percent for those under 30. These statistics are only the tip of the iceberg. They show very clearly that there is a deep ferment in American society.
If Trump is re-elected – which cannot be excluded – it would open up a new and even more turbulent period for the USA. We do not doubt that this would be greeted with dismay by the stupid sectarians who are constantly raving about the alleged danger of “fascism”. But the more intelligent capitalists have a far better understanding of the real situation. They are dimly aware that their system is untenable, but they can do nothing about it because they cannot accept the only way to resolve the contradictions of capitalism is to end capitalism itself.
Even before the next crisis, the world’s richest individuals are deeply worried about the potential for social unrest. For example, Ray Dalio, the 79th richest person in the world is reported as saying: “I’m a capitalist and even I think capitalism is broken.” He added, “Capitalism basically is not working for the majority of people... We’re at a juncture. We can do it [reform it] together, or we will do it in conflict, that there will be a conflict between the rich and the poor,” These words express the situation very nicely.
There has been a significant change in the psychology of Americans. People now identify themselves as working class, whereas for many decades they spoke only of the “middle class”. This is part of what Trotsky meant when he talked about the molecular process of revolution.
The crisis of European capitalism
In 1997, we wrote a document on perspectives for the European Union in which we predicted that the euro could survive for a while, but in the event of a deep slump, all the national contradictions would come to the fore. That is precisely what we see taking place now.
Despite the years of austerity, nothing has been solved in Europe over the past decade. The eurozone in general has stalled and now faces the prospect of a sharp economic contraction, which will have the most serious social and political consequences, but which it is powerless to resist. Its central banks no longer possess the instruments to fight it. This means that the coming world recession will not be an ordinary affair but a far worse downturn than the one that followed the economic crash of 2008-9.
The EU faces on the one hand the shock of Brexit, but also many other shocks hitting their industries. The contraction of world trade is hitting Europe harder than many others because of its chronic reliance on global demand to keep it afloat. That applies particularly to Germany, which only just avoided slipping into recession in 2018.
Europe has been hard hit by Donald Trump’s trade wars. Chinese goods that have been hit by tariffs on the US market are being dumped on Europe. And the situation is made worse by Beijing’s devaluation of the yuan, which makes Chinese exports to Europe even cheaper, undermining European industries, an invasion that Europe cannot repel. The European Central Bank is powerless to counteract the effects of the slowdown in China and the falling demand for European products.
We see how Macron was forced by the revolt of the gilets jaunes to give concessions – but who will pay? France has a big budget deficit. Macron has a plan for Europe, which he euphemistically calls a “planned budget”. His plan is a very simple one: Germany is going to pay everyone’s debts – including those of France, of course. Unfortunately, the Bundesbank has different ideas. And they are not alone. The crisis over Brexit has also acted as a catalyst, enormously exacerbating the centrifugal forces that threaten to tear the European Union apart.
New fault lines
The crisis of the EU started at its periphery in the weaker economies, but is now affecting the more powerful states at its very heart, such as Germany. This, in turn, is now opening up new fault lines. Hungary and Poland are defying the EU over the admission of refugees and other questions.
In early 2018 a new “Hanseatic League” was formed, consisting of the more prosperous countries of northern Europe: Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden; and their Baltic satellites, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Germany is standing behind it, resisting any significant payments to the poorer countries of southern Europe. Some of these (most notably Italy), meanwhile, tried to counterbalance the power of German capital by looking for economic deals with China. These cracks, though small at present, threaten to bring down the whole shaky edifice of the euro, and possibly the EU itself.
But the German bourgeoisie, which dominates the EU, needs to maintain the economic union at all costs. Germany on its own would be a dwarf – compared to the major economic blocs – on the world market. It has around 80 million inhabitants, about a quarter of the US and less than 1/17th of China. The GDP of Germany is less than a third of that of China and less than 1/5th of the US. It has no military power to speak of. To play a role on the world stage it, therefore, needs the lever of the European Union.
In the period of expansion of free trade and when the EU – on the surface at least – was more or less united, Germany was able to “punch above its weight” on the world market – especially in capital-intensive industries such as machine tools, the car industry, and aircraft and aerospace production – which enabled it for a period to be the main exporter of the world. But in a situation of economic slowdown, growing trade conflicts and with the EU member states constantly coming into conflict with each other, both economically and politically, the situation is slowly turning into its opposite.
Germany, which was the engine and the strongest economy of European capitalism, is now in crisis. Inequality and falling living standards are the norm now – it is only internal orders that sustain the German economy, whereas foreign orders are declining fast.
This explains why the German bourgeoisie is pushing strongly to unite the EU under its more direct political leadership, even at the cost of making some, albeit very narrow and temporary, economic concessions to the weaker countries of Europe, mainly through monetary policy, in order to get them to accept political subordination. An indication of this was how the new head of the European Central Bank (ECB) was chosen. Initially there was much speculation that the new head of the ECB would be the former chief of the Bundesbank, but in the end Lagarde from France got the position. Germany preferred to go for the politically central position of the head of the European Commission and got Ursula von der Leyen elected. And, at least since before the European Elections, the German bourgeoisie has been orchestrating a deafening campaign against so-called “populism” – especially against those nationalist parties in government that have an anti-EU demagogic stance, focussing much of their fire on Salvini in Italy and the far-right FPÖ in Austria, who up until recently were both in government.
The aim of all of this is clear. Germany, faced with the spectre of its own demise, is forced to work on transforming the EU into a strong economic bloc against its external competitors. In a situation of ever-growing trade conflicts, the German bourgeoisie is pushing for tighter borders around Europe – not only against refugees, but also against foreign commodities and capital. For example, now the European Commission under Von der Leyen is pushing strongly for an “EU carbon border tax” – mainly to shield German industry, but also to keep Europe under control by making it harder for individual EU countries to do deals with China or the US unilaterally.
However, in the end, this merely delays the inevitable. In the event of a new deep crisis, Germany cannot and will not bail the rest of Europe out. This means that it will be impossible to stop the deep economic and political contradictions that are surfacing even now from breaking out openly. This underlines the fact that the EU is the weakest link in the chain of imperialist economic blocs of world capitalism.
This tendency is strengthened by the growing political instability within Germany itself. Merkel resigned as the chair of the Christian Democratic Party, although she is still at the head of the government. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) has been in government for 17 out of the last 20 years and the result has seen a sharp drop in its support in the last elections. But the Left Party (Die Linke) has not gained from this. That is because its leaders are trying to show that they are fit to join any government. They have accepted a policy of debt reduction, which in practice means cuts in public spending. That is a recipe for a crisis in the party.
And now the crisis of legitimacy of bourgeois democracy has also reached Germany. In the post-war period, the CDU and the SPD together would receive 70-90 percent of the votes for the Bundestag. Today they stand to get a combined vote of around 40 percent, with the SPD polling a historical low of between 13-15 percent. Meanwhile, the far-right AfD has been growing. Temporarily, the Greens have also benefited, though that is likely to be short lived.
Greece: nothing solved
For most of the past decade, the weakest link in the chain of European capitalism was Greece, the country where the crisis of capitalism has had its most catastrophic consequences. For ten years, the people of that country have experienced nothing but savage attacks, constant cuts, and a sharp fall in living standards – in fact, a total collapse. Now, they are boasting that the crisis is over. But this is far from the truth. In 2009, Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio was 126.7 percent, and now it stands at 181.1 percent. As we see, nothing has been solved in Greece.
The Greek workers and youth did everything in their power to fight against capitalist austerity and resist the vicious impositions of the EU. There was general strike after general strike, demonstration after demonstration. At the time of the 2015 referendum, Tsipras had every opportunity to base himself on the massive rejection of the terms for the bailout imposed by the Troika and challenge the EU and the bourgeoisie. The working class – and even broad sections of the petit bourgeoisie – were ready for anything. But at the critical moment, Tsipras capitulated.
This betrayal caused tremendous demoralisation and ended in the defeat of SYRIZA at the last elections, and the victory of New Democracy. Yet SYRIZA still got 31 percent and it could recover. Mitsotakis has pledged to carry out new attacks on the working class. His popularity will vanish as quickly as it arose. The Greek workers have no alternative but to fight. It is a question of life or death. At a certain point, a new period of class struggle will open up in Greece.
Italy: the weakest link
Italy has now taken over from Greece as the weakest link in the chain of European capitalism. Its economy has fallen behind, and it cannot compete with Germany or even France. Italy’s record public debt stands at roughly 132 percent of GDP. Italian capitalism is now in serious trouble. From a revolutionary point of view, Italy is the key country in Europe. Greece is a small country on the periphery of Europe, but Italy is the third-biggest economy in the Eurozone and is at the very heart of the European Union.
The only solution for the Italian ruling class is to cut and cut again. They have declared war on the Italian working class – a finished recipe for a social explosion. As Italy went well over the budgetary limits allowed by the EU, the European Commission wanted to condemn it, but they backed off. They had already made an exception for Macron, but this was not the only reason – the collapse of the Italian banks would spark a European banking crisis. But even more to the point, the potential for a social explosion in Italy is inherent in the situation.
In the past the Italian bourgeoisie had powerful bases of support in society. Its party, the Christian Democrats, had a mass base and the support of the Catholic Church. But that has collapsed. Its second line of defence was the Communist and Socialist parties. But these too have been consigned to the dustbin of history. From the standpoint of the bourgeoisie, the lack of a mass reformist party is not a positive development but a very dangerous one. It is the difference between a car going down a steep hill with defective brakes and one with no brakes at all.
In Italy, there is no mass reformist workers’ party and the leaders of the trade unions are rotten. The Democratic Party, a bourgeois party, is delegitimised in the eyes of the workers: all of its leaders have participated in cuts for years. The Five Stars Movement is yet another example of petit-bourgeois formations that have sprung up from nowhere. They are very confused, and now their support is in sharp decline after they were exposed, first in the coalition government with the right-wing League, and then by entering a coalition with the Democratic Party. There is a colossal vacuum on the left, and the vacuum must be filled by something sooner or later.
The League’s leader, Salvini, is a right-wing bourgeois demagogue, very much in the style of Donald Trump. In his speeches he makes an effort to sound like the “common man”, or, more accurately, an Italian lumpenproletarian. This affectation is a deliberate attempt to create the impression that he stands for something new and radical. He addresses millions of discontented people who hate the political establishment that they identify with the old parties and leaders. He is saying; “Look! I am not like them. I am one of you. If you elect me, things are going to change in Italy. I can get things done!” That gets an echo.
Although Salvini was the Minister of the Interior in the coalition government with the Five Stars, he continued to act as if he were in opposition. He used his position to make belligerent speeches against the “external enemies” (the EU and immigrants), whom he blamed for all of Italy’s misfortunes. As a result, he appeared to be standing against the limits set by the establishment. Salvini’s star rose just as quickly as the Five Stars sank. He chose his moment and cast off his temporary allies, breaking the coalition, thinking he would win the following elections.
But the bourgeoisie, fearing the consequences of a Salvini government for the Italian economy and the Eurozone, decided to block him. The means they selected consisted of a new, unstable coalition of the Five Stars Movement with the Democratic Party. But the Five Stars Movement had already been shipwrecked by entering the coalition government with the League. Being in a coalition with the even-more discredited Democratic Party will be the final kiss of death for it.
The present setback to Salvini’s ambitions will not last for long, however. In fact, by excluding him from government through a transparent manoeuvre, they did him a favour. Demagogues always tend to thrive in opposition. Salvini tries to divert the attention of the masses by shouting about immigration, but once he finds himself at the head of government, he will soon find that this is a policy of diminishing returns. He has no real solutions to the problems of Italian capitalism, and once he is put to the test, Salvini will stand exposed as the reactionary bourgeois politician he is. That will prepare the way for an enormous swing to the left.
The fact remains that the only way forward for the bourgeois is cuts and attacks on living standards. In order to carry out the necessary economic measures, the Italian bourgeoisie needs a strong government. But such a government does not exist. Nor is there any possibility of securing one in the foreseeable future. The perspective is one of a whole series of unstable coalition governments, each of which will end in crisis and collapse. There will be violent swings to the left and to the right, as the masses test different leaders and programmes. And one after the other, they will be exposed.
Given the extreme weakness of the Italian Left, the movement will inevitably express itself, at some point, in the form of mass direct action – similar to the yellow vests movement in France. It will be a new edition of 1969, but on a far-higher level. Once the mass movement in Italy begins, it will be very difficult to stop. It can lead to factory occupations, like the ones that occurred in 1919-1920. That will open the road to revolutionary developments. The road will be open for an explosive growth of our Italian section. But everything depends on our building a strong organisation before the movement develops.
France: the revolt of the masses
Macron boasted that he would never surrender to “the Street”. But faced with the massive revolt of the gilets jaunes, he had to eat his words. He was forced to make a humiliating retreat. Yet the mass demonstrations continued and grew bolder and more radical every day. The demand was raised for the resignation of Macron. The masses displayed an astonishing degree of resilience and determination. Without any serious organisation or leadership, it was really amazing how this movement continued for as long as it did.
But mass demonstrations, no matter how energetic and determined, have definite limits. Lenin long ago explained the limits of spontaneous movements. The spontaneous element was both the strength of the movement and its principal weakness. The gilets jaunes were a very heterogeneous movement, containing both revolutionary and reactionary elements. There was no worked-out plan of action and no real perspective for taking power – which was the only possible perspective.
The main weakness of that movement was its failure to link up with the organised working class and to fight for an indefinite general strike. But the principal reason why this did not happen was the conduct of the trade union leaders who were horrified by the movement. In the end, this is what saved Macron. The main reason that the gilets jaunes movement came into existence was precisely the rottenness of the French labour leaders and the so-called left who collaborated with Macron and accepted all the cuts.
Since the masses could not find an expression in the organised working class, it found an expression outside. Later, feeling the pressure from below and fearing a new movement which could run out of their control the union leaders called for a general strike in December 2019. This turned out to be a very powerful protest, with 1.5 million on the streets, indicating that the organised working class is now on the move.
What was most striking at the time of the gilets jaunes was the way in which the French bourgeois were drawing uncomfortable parallels with the French Revolution. It shows how even the bourgeois are beginning to grasp, in however a dim and confused way, the revolutionary implications of the present situation. In that respect they are far more serious and perspicacious than the left reformist and sectarian blockheads.
There is no room in revolutionary politics for impressionism and romanticism. We must have a clear clinical attitude towards movements of this kind. Yes, we must see the revolutionary possibilities that are implicit within them. Yes, we must welcome them with every enthusiasm and do everything in our power to help them to succeed. Above all, we can help them to acquire the necessary political clarity, without which success will always elude the stormiest mass movements.
However, eventually it was destined to die down. Macron was therefore able to hold on to power temporarily and regain the initiative. But he was mortally wounded by this battle. His concessions have increased the budget deficit and therefore new cuts and attacks will be necessary. The government has been seriously weakened. And the powerful December 5th general strike is a clear indication that new clashes are inevitable that will finally finish it off altogether, opening the way for new revolutionary developments in France.
The problem is not the strength of Macron but the extreme weakness of the Left. All of the parties on the left are in crisis. France Insoumise has committed a lot of blunders. During the yellow vest movement, they lagged behind. One of the main demands put forward by the movement was new elections. France Insoumise took a long time before supporting this demand.
Mélenchon, who had earlier emerged as a strong challenger from the left, has failed to take advantage of this situation. In the aftermath of the December general strike he lined up behind the trade union leaders who, ignoring the workers’ slogan of “Down with Macron” wished to channel the protest towards negotiations with the government, limiting these to the pension “reform”.
Mélenchon no longer talks about the need to take over the economy. Instead, he talks about needing to moderate language. What he is really saying is that it is necessary to dilute the party’s propaganda so as not to frighten the bourgeoisie. He refuses to introduce more democratic structures into the France Insoumise (FI) movement, because this would provide the structures through which criticism of the leadership could emerge. If he had seriously structured the movement, France Insoumise would have taken off. But he does not want to organize a political party. Rather, he prefers to keep FI as an amorphous and ill-defined “movement.”
Because Mélenchon failed to exploit the full potential of the situation, Marine Le Pen is gaining in the polls. Nevertheless, FI, although weakened, still remains for now the only viable point of reference on the left, and could recover lost ground as the crisis develops. And despite all the attempts of Macron to recover his base, his reactionary programme of cuts has served to reignite the mass movement of opposition, as we saw in the December general strike against pension “reform”.
The crisis in Spain
The social and economic situation in Spain is extremely unstable. What economic growth exists is based on non-productive sectors: tourism, and speculation. By contrast, industrial production has experienced its sharpest fall in six years. That is especially true of the auto industry. There is a serious housing crisis, with constant increases in rents, electricity bills, etc. The mass movement of pensioners in 2019 indicated a growing mood of radicalisation in Spanish society.
The contradictions are coming to the fore at every level. All the institutions of the bourgeois regime are discredited. The Catalan question is not resolved. The sentencing of the Catalan political prisoners produced a new wave of mass protests, which acquired an almost insurrectionary character. But, as was clearly shown in the aftermath of the independence referendum in 2017, under its current, cowardly, petit-bourgeois nationalist leadership, the Catalan republican movement cannot advance. Only with a clear internationalist and working-class orientation could it gather the necessary strength to challenge the Spanish regime.
The elections of April 2019 showed the potential for the left. That was already prepared by the 8th of March women’s strike and the mass movement of the pensioners. The emergence of a far-right party, Vox – a split off from the Popular Party – which adopted all the old rhetoric of Francoism, had the effect of increasing the left vote, bringing about the defeat of the Popular Party, which lost cities that it had ruled in for over 25 years. The radicalisation was reflected in the largest turnout in the last 30 years for the Spanish elections.
But this potential was thrown away by the leaders of Podemos and United Left, who have shown that they are not even good opportunists. Instead of offering to help the PSOE to form a government (and thus block the right wing) by giving the PSOE critical support from outside the government, they were only interested in demanding ministerial posts inside it. That finally led to the breakdown of talks. In the end, Sanchez decided to call fresh elections, in the hope of increasing his own base and being able to form a more stable government, which the ruling class needs in order to weather the forthcoming economic recession.
The new elections in November 2019 did not solve anything. Instead of being strengthened, the PSOE lost a few MPs, while Ciudadanos, its other possible coalition partner, collapsed. This forced the PSOE to form a coalition with Unidas Podemos (which accepted government discipline and the EU spending limits) with outside support from the Catalan and Basque nationalists. Such a government will have to deal with the impending economic recession, as well as the struggle for national rights in Catalonia. It will be riddled by contradictions and will inevitably lead to the discrediting of the Podemos and United Left leaders.
Four years ago, the referendum on EU membership produced a result that shocked the Establishment to the core. Since then, Britain has been in a state of unparalleled political and social turmoil. The new element in the equation is the fact that the ruling class was losing control of the situation, and ever since, it has been struggling to regain control.
In the past, running the system was not such a difficult task. The Conservative party (the Tories), the main party of the bourgeoisie, was under their control, while the Labour Party was led by respectable middle-class ladies and gentlemen who could be relied upon to handle things. And when the masses got tired of them, they could bring the Tories back in again.
In the last few years, however, the destruction of the social and political equilibrium that flowed from the economic collapse in 2008 has been reflected in the sharp polarisation to the right and to the left. In effect, the British ruling class lost control of both the Tory Party and the Labour Party.
The bourgeois in Britain were alarmed at the developments in the Conservative Party, over which they have little or no control. But they were even more terrified by developments in the Labour Party. The election of Jeremy Corbyn, despite the limited left reformist character of his programme, represented a sharp turn to the left. It aroused hundreds of thousands of people – especially the youth – into political life.
New recruits flooded into the party, leading to a profound transformation. The Blairite right wing was demoralised. The big majority of local parties have moved sharply to the left, particularly after the attempted coup in 2016. The change has extended to many parts of the party apparatus, after Blairite general secretary Iain McNicol was replaced with Jennie Formby. The witch-hunt against the left was halted and many former left-wing members returned.
The Party conference is now dominated by the left, with only the trade union bureaucracy left to prevent it from “going too far”. The influence of the right wing is now reduced to its last bastions, the Parliamentary Labour Party, the regional offices and the councils, where it continues to fight a rear-guard action against the Corbynistas.
These developments produced something akin to panic in the ruling class. Given the depth of the crisis, a Labour government would have come under extreme pressure to carry out its programme and take measures against the bankers and capitalists. This would have represented a serious threat to the bourgeoisie.
Together with the right wing in the Labour Party, the ruling class did everything possible to prevent it. The Blairites in the Parliamentary Labour Party were already preparing to split the Party if Corbyn won the election. They actively worked behind the scenes for the Labour defeat. Now they have got the result they fervently desired.
The ruling class mobilised all the resources to crush Jeremy Corbyn and prevent a Labour victory. The 2019 general election was the dirtiest in modern times. All the resources at the disposal of the ruling class – from the mass media to the Chief Rabbi – were mobilised to vilify and demonise Jeremy Corbyn.
However, the decisive element that determined the result was undoubtedly Brexit. Ever since 2016, this issue has been poisoning British political life. Basically, this was a split between two factions of the ruling class, but it ended by dividing society, not on class lines, but in an entirely reactionary way.
The right wing of the party blame Corbyn for the election defeat, but they overlook the little detail that, by pushing the Labour Party behind the Remain camp, they themselves played a very important role in ensuring Labour’s defeat. And the alleged “unpopularity” of Jeremy Corbyn was due mainly to their persistent attacks, smears and attempts to unseat him as Labour leader.
Predictably, the day after the election, the vicious campaign to overthrow Corbyn was intensified a thousandfold, and achieved its objective – at least partially – when Corbyn and McDonnell announced that they would be standing down.
The fall of Jeremy Corbyn, however, also served to expose the weaknesses and limitations of left reformism. The right-wing reformists have shown themselves to be far more determined than the Left. They are prepared to go to any lengths to win the battle for the Labour Party. The Left, on the other hand, tends to vacillate, avoid conflict and compromise. That is a very serious mistake, and one that inevitably leads to retreat after retreat. And for every step back that is made, they demand ten more.
This political adaptation of Corbyn was decisive in the electoral defeat of the Labour Party. On the Brexit issue, Corbyn supported the holding of a new referendum, which was seen by those who voted to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum as an attempt to reverse a decision already taken by the majority of the population, a decision, moreover, which contradicted the interests of the establishment.
The attempts of Corbyn and McDonnell to conciliate the right in order to preserve “unity” showed weakness, and weakness invites aggression. The retreat on deselection, Europe and anti-Semitism played into the hands of the right wing and prepared the way for the present defeat. But a Blairite counterrevolution in the Labour Party cannot be achieved without a civil war in the Party. And it is already in a state of open civil war.
The resignation of Corbyn undoubtedly represents a blow to the Left, as it was intended to. The changes that have taken place in Labour are very far-reaching, especially at rank-and-file level, but also to a large extent within the party apparatus, so that the phenomenon known as the Corbyn Revolution cannot be reversed very easily, as the more sober minded bourgeois analysts have understood. On 13 December, the Economist published an article under the title “Jeremy Corbyn’s crushing defeat”, which concluded glumly: “Blairism will remain in the grave.”
The prostitute media tries to present this setback as the beginning of the end for Labour. In retrospect it will be seen merely as an episodic development, which will turn into its opposite. When the reality of Brexit finally dawns on people, there will be a violent reaction against Boris Johnson and all his works. His government will be the most unpopular government in recent history.
The election result was not so resounding as it has been presented. In fact, the increase in the Tory vote was negligible – just 300,000 votes over the result of 2017. Nor is the result in the working-class areas of the north-east of England as encouraging as what they would like us to believe. Most of those who voted for Johnson say that they merely “lent” him their support. They expect him to deliver on his promises, and if he does not do so, that support will be withdrawn.
But Johnson will not be able to deliver on his promises. As in other countries, the present period is characterised by violent swings of public opinion, both to the left and to the right. The 2019 election in Britain is only one more example of this process. It will usher in a new period of social conflict, class struggle and political upheavals that will dwarf anything we have seen heretofore, with profound political consequences.
Britain’s departure from the EU, far from leading to a new era of prosperity and economic growth, will have very negative consequences for the British economy. If – which is still possible – Britain leaves the EU without a deal, it will spell an absolute catastrophe. But even in the best variant, Brexit will lead to a contraction of the economy, loss of jobs and falling living standards.
Far from offering a future of progress, prosperity and stability, Britain is destined to enter into the most unstable and turbulent period in modern times. The inevitable attacks on living standards and services will result in an outburst of strikes, protests and mass demonstrations on a scale not seen in Britain since the 1970s.
The situation will further be destabilised by the national question in Scotland. Whereas the Conservatives gained a decisive majority in England, the Scottish National Party (SNP) secured an even more decisive majority north of the border. The victory of Boris Johnson was the equivalent of a red rag to a bull the people of Scotland. His electoral slogan of “get Brexit done” sounded like a provocation to the Scots, who had voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU.
The nationalist leader Nicola Sturgeon immediately demanded a new referendum on Scottish independence. Boris Johnson refuses even to hear of such a thing. The road is therefore open to a serious clash between Scotland and Westminster. The outcome of this conflict is difficult to predict. But one thing is absolutely clear. The Marxist tendency stands firmly for the right of the Scottish people to freely determine their own future, up to and including the right to separate from the United Kingdom. However, we must explain to the Scottish workers that, inside or outside the United Kingdom, on a capitalist basis, no solution is possible for the Scottish working class. As opposed to the bourgeois nationalists of the SNP, who stand for a capitalist independent Scotland, we fight for a Scottish Workers’ Republic, which would be a powerful launching pad for the achievement of a Socialist Federation of Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales. In any struggle between Scotland and the reactionary Tory government, we will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Scottish people.
The disaster that is Brexit will also have serious consequences in Ireland, where the introduction of border controls and duties – even in the modified form proposed by Boris Johnson – will serve to revive all the old demons that they thought they had laid to rest in the Good Friday agreement. It is a supreme irony of history that the party that is officially known as the Conservative and Unionist Party will very likely preside over the destruction of the United Kingdom, with unforeseeable consequences for the people of these islands.
The stage will be set for conflict and struggle on a massive scale. This will prepare a sharp swing to the left in future. If the left holds its nerve, it will benefit from this. Those areas that voted Conservative in these elections will swing violently in the opposite direction. In the immediate future, the Labour Party will be in a state of intense ferment. In the immediate future, the Blairite Right will stage a last desperate battle to regain control. They are backed by the ruling class, which wishes to reverse the swing to the Left in the Party.
The struggle in the Labour Party will assume an ever sharper and more bitter character. A process of internal debate and reflection on this election will now begin. The provocations of the Blairites will provoke a wave of anger and indignation in the ranks. However, this is a struggle of living forces, the result of which is difficult to foresee.
The overwhelming majority of Labour’s rank and file are Corbynistas. They are ready to fight the right wing. But in any struggle, the quality and fighting spirit of the leadership is an essential element. Corbyn and McDonnell made concessions to the right wing. If they are replaced by a softer variety of left reformists, they may be even more inclined to bend to the demands for “unity”, and fall into the trap that has been set by the Blairite gang.
Essentially, the struggle in the Labour Party is a class struggle: one wing is trying to represent the working class, the poor and dispossessed, the other is composed of careerists who are, consciously or unconsciously, serving the interests of big business. These two antagonistic tendencies cannot remain together indefinitely. If the rank and file succeeds in asserting its primacy, at a certain point, the right wing will be forced to split. But that is by no means certain.
When Corbyn and McDonnell announced their intention to step down, the right wing was encouraged to go onto the offensive. They have recovered their morale, which was at a low ebb since 2017 and see no reason for splitting when they hope to regain control. By contrast, the Lefts are demoralised and disoriented. Their candidate for the leadership, Rebecca Long-Bailey does not enjoy a fraction of Corbyn’s authority. Everything depends on the rank and file. But there is a lot of confusion there too.
In any case, the Marxist tendency will be in the first line of battle against the right wing. It will gain authority and prestige in the eyes of workers and youth, who will discover in practice the superiority of Marxism, not just as an idea, but as a tendency that does not compromise or capitulate, but carries on the fight to the end.
US imperialism and world relations
After the collapse of the USSR, there was only one big superpower. And with colossal power came colossal arrogance. After the end of World War II, the whole world was divided between US imperialism and mighty Stalinist Russia. This produced something like stability in international relations that lasted for decades, punctuated occasionally by crises like the Cuban missile crisis. But in general, the two great powers were careful not to interfere too much in the other’s sphere of influence.
All that changed after the fall of the Soviet Union. The collapse left a vacuum which the US imperialists exploited by intervening, first in the Balkans and then in wars with Iraq and Afghanistan. Russia was in a weak position and for a time was unable to react. But that period has come to an end. Eventually, Russia began to recover and to assert itself, starting with Georgia, then Ukraine, then Syria. In Iraq and Afghanistan as well, the US was faced with defeat at the hands of the Taliban, which is now on the ascent in Afghanistan, while Iran has come out on top in Iraq.
In all these cases, US imperialism was compelled to accept a humiliating defeat. The result of these defeats has been huge state debts and a deeply war-weary population. Coupled with the general crisis of capitalism, the rising class struggle and the resulting divisions within the ruling class, the scope for US military intervention has been severely restricted. Barack Obama could not even pass a bombing campaign of Syria through Congress. This shows the limits of the power of US imperialism. The USA is experiencing a decline relative to other capitalist powers. This explains the increased global instability and the crisis of the post-war world order, which was built around US imperialism.
However, one must be careful not to exaggerate the decline of US imperialism. There is a relative decline, but America is still the wealthiest country in the world, and the most formidable military power. Its conduct is central to the direction of the world economy, as it is far and away the biggest market. A slowdown of the US economy would lead to a global slowdown, ending in a world recession.
While Trump is an isolationist from a military point of view, he is doing everything possible (and some things that are impossible) to assert this power in the economic field. That is summed up in his slogan: “Make America Great Again”, to which he forgets to add the second part: at the expense of the rest of the world. As we have explained, this is causing conflicts which could have serious consequences for the world economy.
China, the sleeping dragon
China is one of the most important countries in the world, thanks to the development of industry in the last period. There is an enormous building-up of contradictions. The growth of industry has also meant a colossal growth of the working class. Napoleon once said: “China is a sleeping dragon. When that dragon awakes the world will tremble.” We can repeat those prophetic words with a minor paraphrase: “When the Chinese proletariat awakes, the world will tremble.” The colossal revolutionary potential of China was dramatically revealed by events in Hong Kong.
That is extremely positive from our point of view, but it is a serious problem for the Chinese ruling class. Now, all the contradictions are coming to the fore. It is clear from the limited statistical information available that there has been an increase in the number of strikes and other kinds of protests. And Xi Jinping is attempting to centralize everything and stamp out any dissent before it gets out of hand.
China now spends more on internal security than on defence. Since it is a totalitarian state, information about what is happening is filtered. The impression is created of a calm society, where nothing much is going on. But this is an optical illusion. China is like a gigantic pressure cooker, where the build-up of pressure, lacking any legal means of expression, must finally be expressed in an enormous explosion. This will occur when nobody expects it – precisely what we saw in Hong Kong.
In its early stages, this movement had an element of class consciousness and left-wing ideas. One of the leaders in his programme stated that he is against capitalist hegemony. The mood on the streets was clearly revolutionary, and the young people showed tremendous heroism. The movement in Hong Kong could have spread to mainland China. The potential with the correct leadership was enormous.
However, with a petit-bourgeois leadership there was no chance of this happening. Lacking any serious left leadership, the pro-western elements came to the fore, and their appealing to the United States and the West for help was used by the Chinese media as part of their propaganda aimed at blackening the image of the protesters in the minds of millions of ordinary Chinese people. The heroism of the youth will be of no avail as long as the leaders have illusions in the solution for Hong Kong on a capitalist basis. That is a finished recipe for defeat.
The confusion of the leaders was further compounded by their constant attempts to negotiate a solution with the leaders in Beijing. Xi had no intention of negotiating with them or anybody else. He was intent on silencing them. The reason is clear: the masses in Hong Kong had provided an example that could easily have spread to mainland China, where enormous discontent is bubbling just beneath the surface. And the men in Beijing are terrified.
Whatever the outcome of the present situation, it will not be the final act of the drama but only the prelude to even-greater events. A setback in Hong Kong would delay the revolutionary process in China, but it would not halt it. In the coming period, the mass mobilisations we have seen in Hong Kong will be repeated in Beijing and Shanghai and throughout China on a far-higher level. That is the real perspective. [...]
The Putin regime has been in power for two decades. On the international stage, the impression is given of a strongman who exercises complete control in Russia. But this is a very one-sided view of the real state of affairs in Russia. The “strongman” is a giant with feet of clay. In the first period, Putin benefited from an economic revival, based largely on the high price of oil and gas – Russia’s principal exports and the main source of its wealth.
Subsequently, he played the card of Russian nationalism in relation to the Ukrainian crisis, leading to the annexation of the Crimea and military intervention in the Donbass region. But now the nationalist euphoria has dissipated, the economy is stagnating, and Putin’s support in the opinion polls is falling steadily. Both the workers and bourgeois are putting pressure on Putin, who is attempting to create the impression of taking decisive action against corruption, although the Kremlin clique itself is the source of massive corruption. In 2018, some secret service officers were arrested on corruption charges. But these measures did not do anything to improve the economy.
The slowing pace of economic development has forced the Kremlin to cut back state expenditure. This in turn means that the “social contract” is breaking down. Unemployment has increased, as have temporary and precarious employment. These attacks have accelerated in the recent period. A case in point was the pension reform, which constituted a serious blow to millions of workers in Russia, and was met with mass protests.
Since he is unable to halt the decline of the economy, Putin tried to tighten his grip on the political front. He seeks to impose total control on the judicial and political system, communications and the media. His party, United Russia, keeps a firm grip on all the political levers, but it is facing growing discontent, which has been expressed in a series of mass protests against the government, particularly in Moscow.
However, the campaign led by Alexei Novalny has an overwhelmingly middle-class character, despite his attempts to appeal to the workers. At the same time, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) under the leadership of Zyuganov makes no attempt to provide leadership to the protests, and, in effect, has reached a secret deal with the Kremlin to avoid any serious opposition to Vladimir Putin.
Ten years ago, the CPRF was a serious force in Russia, but although it is still an important factor today, it has not made any gains from the political situation and is now in a serious crisis. The leadership of this party is utterly bankrupt. It has entirely embraced the capitalist system. Many of its candidates in elections are businessmen. It is run by an autocratic clique, which is in permanent conflict with other rival bureaucratic cliques.
In most cases, these clique struggles have absolutely no political content, although it is interesting to note that the usual accusation against oppositionists is “neo-Trotskyism”. There have been repeated waves of expulsions, including the expulsion of entire local party organisations. [...] However, it would be a serious mistake to write off the CPRF entirely. It still has the name of the Communist Party, and the insignias of Communism – the red flag, hammer and sickle, etc. Because of the huge vacuum that exists on the left, despite everything, it can pick up support in the future, especially as the social and political crisis unfolds.
Although at the present time Putin has succeeded in maintaining control, this situation will not last forever. The Russian economy depends fundamentally on oil and gas prices, which will inevitably be hit by the next world economic recession. The protests that have already begun will be replicated on a far greater scale and will completely undermine the base of Putin’s rule. He will no longer be able to play the nationalist card, since the masses are already tired of Putin’s foreign adventures and are reacting against them.
The main thing that is lacking in Russia is that the working class has not yet begun to move. Once that occurs, the whole situation will be rapidly transformed, as we saw in January 1905. The Russian workers have revolutionary traditions and their consciousness will grow by leaps and bounds once the situation changes.
We have now established a firm section with a basis in many regions of Russia. A delay in the revolutionary process is in our favour, as we need time to consolidate our forces, which can develop rapidly as the situation unfolds. The emergence of a genuine workers' party is on the order of the day and we must be at the centre of this process. This may happen through a fundamental change of the regime within the CPRF, or, if the internal crisis leads to the destruction of the party, this will mean the need to create an entirely new party. We stand on the basis of authentic Bolshevism-Leninism (Trotskyism). That gives us enormous strength, authority and confidence. With patient work among the most advanced workers and youth we can lay the basis for building a mass revolutionary force in the future in the land of October.
Africa has a population of 1.3 billion people, the vast majority of whom live in abject poverty, in a continent sitting on huge mineral wealth and untapped agricultural potential. An index of this poverty is Africa’s overall GDP of $2.2 trillion (2017 figure). By contrast, in 2017, the GDP of the United States – a country of 327 million people – was $19.4 trillion – almost ten times that of the whole of Africa. This highlights starkly the role of imperialism, in the past and today, in exploiting the continent and holding back its potential development.
It is hardly surprising that this sea of human misery is producing a massive wave of refugees, desperately seeking a way out of the nightmarish conditions in which they are forced to live as a result of the plunder of their countries by voracious multinationals and imperialism, which continues to dominate them through the mechanisms of unequal world trade, crippling debt repayments that drain away the continent’s wealth, and fraudulent “aid” that frequently acts as a hypocritical cover for exploitation.
On top of this historical backwardness, we now have the impact of the world crisis of capitalism. The whole of Africa is in turmoil, with profound social and political crises affecting many countries. We have seen a wave of mass movements in the recent period, all with similar elements. Long-standing dictators, or presidents who have been in office for several legislatures, have refused to go when their time was up. In each case, the masses identified the sitting president with the draconian austerity that has been imposed on them, and this has unleashed mass movements of revolutionary dimensions across the continent in recent years.
In Burkina Faso in 2014, there were protests against the plans of the outgoing president Compaoré to change the law in order for him to extend his stay in office. Faced with mass opposition he was forced to resign after 27 years in office. Burundi in 2015 saw weeks of struggle by the masses against President Nkurunziza’s plan to stand for yet another term in office which shook the entire regime to its core. Crowds of people flooded the streets on a daily basis calling for change. Entire neighbourhoods rose up against the regime.
In the Congo in 2015, major movements broke out across the country with protesters demanding that Joseph Kabila step down as President. He was attempting to extend his stay in office past the 2016 deadline. Eventually, Kabila had to go and a new president was elected in 2018, but widespread rigging was carried out in a deal made at the top. Meanwhile, the country remains in a state of catastrophic economic and social collapse, and is facing a new civil war that threatens to plunge it into barbarism, with slaughter on an unimaginable scale.
The Gambia in 2016 found itself in the midst of a profound crisis, provoked by the decision of the dictatorial President Yahya Jammeh not to step down, despite being voted out of office in December 2016. The following year, in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe’s departure from office, after 37 years in power, sent ripples throughout the southern African region. His fall was met with jubilation across the continent. This was an indication that the masses are sick and tired of the rotten old regimes. However, nothing fundamental changed after his departure and this was revealed at the beginning of 2019, when mass protests against new austerity measures spontaneously grew into a general strike against the government.
Liberia is also simmering with mass movements of students and workers erupting in 2019. The regime has clamped down, but is proving incapable of stopping the inevitable mass anger from spilling over into bigger movements. President Weah, having come to power just two years ago, as the masses turned against the previous government, has already provoked mass movements and could well fall in the coming period. We can expect more such movements of the African masses, in wave after wave of class struggle, as part of the wider rising tide of revolutionary upheavals gripping the world.
Nigeria is one of the key countries of Africa, together with Egypt and South Africa. It is the biggest country on the continent, with a population of over 200 million, and a GDP of 375.8 billion USD, i.e. one sixth of the whole of Africa’s GDP. At the same time, however, it has a life expectancy that is the lowest in all of West Africa.
Since the end of military rule in 1999 the Nigerian ruling class has governed the country through two bourgeois parties, first the PDP and now the APC, but the masses are close to the limit of what they can take. This was revealed in the elections in 2019, when over 43 million eligible voters did not bother to come out and vote, making those who abstained the biggest single block of voters! Only 35 percent throughout the whole country turned out to vote; but Lagos, the most developed state in the country, recorded a meagre 18 percent turnout. This glaringly reveals the huge vacuum that the leadership of the working class continues to leave unfilled.
The Nigerian ruling class is incapable of providing even the bare necessities of life for the majority of the population, constantly pushing the masses below even their present barbaric living conditions. The ruling class is aware that the present conditions could lead to a social explosion.
Twenty years after the downfall of Apartheid, none of the fundamental problems of the South African masses have been solved. Poverty and unemployment are rife and inequality is even higher than in the Apartheid era. The only ones who have benefitted are a thin layer of black South Africans, such as billionaire president Cyril Ramaphosa, who have joined the ranks of the capitalist class.
While holding back the masses, the ANC regime has carried out one pro-capitalist policy after another. Now there is widespread disillusionment with the system. More than 51 percent of the electorate did not vote in the last election, and abstentions were especially high among the youth. This is a serious concern of the ruling class. The ANC government is in deep crisis, reflected in an open split at the top. The official opposition, the DA, is also in crisis.
Meanwhile, the dead end of capitalism, has led to a big swing to the left in South African society. In the past 20 years there have been continuous rounds of mobilisations. Workers, youth and poor throughout the country have staged countless strikes and protests. On the one hand, this has led to the rise of the new trade union federation, SAFTU, which was set up by the 364,000 strong metal workers’ union, NUMSA. This is now the most powerful union federation in South Africa, based on a programme which, at least in words, calls for the abolition of capitalism.
The NUMSA leaders also had a historical opportunity to set up a workers’ party, but bureaucratic foot dragging squandered that opportunity. For now, the Revolutionary Workers Party set up by the union, is little more than a shell of a party. Therefore the political vacuum has been partially filled by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which has become a focal point for large layers of the youth and even some layers of the working class. The success of the EFF has been mainly due to their radical rhetoric, calling out government corruption, mobilising youth on the streets and calling for land expropriation without compensation, nationalisation of banks, mines and other strategic sectors, demanding free education, sanitation and housing, etc.
These demands are clearly resonating with sections of the working class in the urban centres as well as many rural layers. However, the more established the party has become in day-to-day politics, the more it has swung further and further to the right – in particular after Cyril Ramaphosa became president. On the land question, the party made wide-ranging concessions to the ANC. Nevertheless, as long as the party is not in power, the masses will not notice this. All they see is a party that takes the fight to the rich. In light of the crisis of capitalism and that of the ANC, the EFF is set to continue growing.
The Middle East
The fate of the Arab Spring shows how revolution and counterrevolution are organically linked. It is impossible to make half a revolution. Either the working class places itself at the head of the movement and takes power into its hands, or the whole process can go into reverse, preparing the ground for counter-revolution. That is precisely what occurred in Egypt.
This underlines the vital importance of the subjective factor. The Egyptian masses were capable of making not one revolution, but ten. But in the end, all their efforts were frustrated by the lack of leadership. The vacuum was filled by the counter-revolution, with the military taking over the government.
However, the Arab revolution has not finished. All of the contradictions that led to the revolutions in 2011 have only been exacerbated. Under the impact of new tremors in the world economy, the living standards of the middle classes are plummeting, while the workers and poor are pushed deeper into a state of chronic poverty, unemployment or at best severely irregular payment of wages. Meanwhile, the ruling class has lost all legitimacy and is hanging by a thread everywhere.
For a while, cheap credit flowing from the West allowed the governments to buy social peace. But as this process has exhausted itself, a new crisis is spreading throughout the region. The global crisis of capitalism is making itself felt, and expresses itself in revolutionary outbursts in one country after another: Lebanon, Algeria and Sudan. And Turkey, Jordan and Egypt are not far behind.
As the cheap credit dries up, every country will have to carry out deep cuts in living standards, which in turn will lead to new social upheavals. After a few years of hiatus and disorientation, the movement is beginning to find its feet again. Every one of these regimes is in a deep crisis. That also applies to Israel, where the ruling class is bitterly divided, which is a reflection of the increased divisions in Israeli society as a whole. Finally, the crisis is beginning to shake the foundations of the reactionary regimes of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.
In 2018, a general strike and widespread mass protests in Jordan led to the downfall of Prime Minister Hani Mulki. In Tunisia, wave after wave of mass protests have shaken the country. In Algeria, a powerful revolutionary movement has overthrown Bouteflika and shaken the regime from top to bottom. In Turkey, Erdogan suffered serious setbacks in the local elections, losing control of Istanbul, Ankara and three other major cities. He tried to distract the attention of the masses by launching a military adventure against the Kurds in Syria. But the constant deterioration of the economic situation is creating the conditions for a new upsurge of the protest movements, on the lines of the Gezi Park mobilisations in 2013, but on a far higher level.
Iran and Iraq
In Iran, persistent protests, drawing in newly awakened layers of workers and poor, have shaken the regime throughout 2018. These were temporarily subdued by the threat of war with the US, Israel and the Gulf states, but resumed in November 2019, after the regime introduced cuts to gas subsidies. New and more widespread social explosions are being prepared.
In Lebanon, the masses took to the streets after the introduction of the so-called “WhatsApp tax”, which was a part of a wider austerity package. At its height, this mighty movement drew in more than two million people – out of a total population of 4.5 million (six million if you count the Syrian refugees). This was a reaction to years of corruption and open abuse of power by the warlords of the civil war in the 1980s, now turned politicians.
For years, these elements had fomented sectarianism to divide the population, but it is not working any more. Faced with the revolutionary wave from below, the people at the top joined hands to defend the regime. They will try to derail the movement by stoking the fires of sectarianism. The only way forward for the movement is to mobilise the working class in an all-out general strike to bring down the regime and prevent the counter-revolution from regaining the initiative.
In Iraq, a powerful revolutionary movement, originating in the Shia areas, and directed against the elite, swept the country. It was also directed against all political parties and leaders – including Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia leader. He had called for protests in previous years, but recently joined the government himself. The establishment reacted with brutal repression. But the protests continued, and became increasingly radical, spreading to the students and the working class, which led to several major strike waves.
The Iraqi movement has led to deep divisions within the ruling class. The pro-Iranian factions demanded the stepping up of repression, while layers around top Shia cleric Ali Al-Sistani advocated superficial concessions in order to divert the movement. In the end, the Iranian line seems to have prevailed. But the killing of hundreds and injuring of thousands will serve to burn the democratic illusion of the past out of the consciousness of the masses.
Previously, the Iranian-supported Shia groups in Iraq and Lebanon could hide their reactionary nature behind their struggle against ISIS, and US and Saudi imperialism. They claimed to be the defenders of democracy, of the poor and the oppressed. But now they have been exposed. In Lebanon, Hezbollah, which has led a national unity government since the 2018 elections, has carried out austerity policies and has been at the forefront of attacks against the revolution. In Iraq, Iranian-controlled groups have tightened their grip on the state apparatus, pushing out most of the American-backed elements. Iran’s role in Iraq is increasingly seen by the masses as a brutal and oppressive occupying force. Qassem Soleimani, the Revolutionary Guard Quds leader, was the key figure coordinating the crackdown on the revolution.
This will have important consequences in Iran itself, where the regime has partially based itself on portraying its foreign policy as that of a progressive, non-sectarian and democratic force, fighting against imperialism and religious fundamentalism in the region. The scenes of Iraqi protesters storming the Iranian embassy in Iraq – reminiscent of the storming of the US embassy after the Iranian revolution – will no doubt serve to dissipate further the anti-imperialist illusions that the Iranian regime has been cultivating.
Of all the movements in the Middle East in the past years, the Sudanese revolution has gone the furthest, providing important lessons for the masses of the region. The courage and determination of the youth, and especially the Sudanese young women, were truly inspiring. At the height of the movement, the vast majority of workers in government ministries adhered to the strike committee’s call for a general strike, which posed the question of power.
But because of the confusion and vacillations of the leadership, the opportunity was thrown away. In a situation like that, the idea that it was possible to reach a negotiated settlement with the reactionary army officers was foolish in the extreme. In such a situation, words will not solve anything, except to delude the masses and disarm them in the face of counterrevolutionary violence.
The reactionaries, backed by Egypt and Saudi imperialism, were heavily armed, but the masses had an immense advantage of numbers and the willingness to fight and die, if necessary. They had the sympathy of the ordinary soldiers. But that sympathy would remain passive unless the masses showed that they were prepared to go to the end. Only then would it be possible for the bulk of the soldiers to turn their guns against their officers and crush the counterrevolutionary forces.
That was the only way to smash the counter-revolution and secure victory. But the reactionaries were allowed time to regroup and launch bloody counter-offensive after counter-offensive. The result in Sudan was tragic. The so-called revolutionary leaders of the SPA joined a government of the reactionaries, with their main role being to hold the masses back from revolutionary action allowing the counter-revolution to rule.
The USA and Iran: to bomb, or not to bomb?
The limitations of US power have been starkly exposed in the Middle East. America has suffered defeats and setbacks in Iraq, Syria, and also in Afghanistan. And the conflicts in the region have served to expose and exacerbate the crisis of the Saudi regime, which has only been able to survive this long due to the backing of British and US imperialism. Today, the regime is riven with internal divisions, with the Al-Sauds, the Wahhabi movement, the royal family and its tribal network, all pushing their own agendas, while discontent is simmering among the oppressed Shia, the youth and the working class.
As long as the economy was sound and US imperialism supported it, the House of Saud could maintain a fragile base for the regime. But with oil prices declining, the crucial networks of patronage which kept the kingdom intact are giving way to deep divisions. Muhammad bin Salman, attempted to consolidate his position by waging a barbarous war on Yemen.
Trump is closely tied to the Republican Right, the Saudi crown prince and the Israeli ruling clique. As a gesture to these forces, he tore up the Iran nuclear deal and embarked on his “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran. The economic offensive launched by Trump against Iran provided a green light for Israeli and Saudi sponsored attacks on Iran and its proxies in the region. As a result, Iran and Saudi Arabia are in a head-on conflict for hegemony in the region.
The bloody proxy war in Yemen has dragged on for four years. But despite all their wealth and military hardware, the Saudi offensive failed to take the strategic port of Hadieida, and the Houthis launched attacks on oil pipelines inside Saudi Arabia. The forces of the UAE played a key role in the ground war (backed up by ineffective Saudi air strikes). But now, sensing defeat, they decided to withdraw. This was a fatal blow at the Saudi ambitions in Yemen.
The tensions in the Gulf have serious implications for the world economy. 30 percent of all shipments of oil pass through the Gulf. Any impediment at this point would be catastrophic for the global economy. When two oil tankers were attacked in June 2019, Washington immediately blamed Iran. Trump ordered his forces to attack, but ten minutes later, he reversed his order. This was evidence of serious splits inside the administration, later confirmed by the summary dismissal of Bolton.
In September 2019 there was a very serious attack on Saudi oil installations, which was a big blow to the Saudis, who expected the Americans to come to their aid. This was a big mistake.
Trump knew very well that an attack against Iran would prove very costly, not only in military, but also in economic and political terms. The Americans only decided to invade Iraq after its army had been seriously weakened by years of sanctions. But the Iranian armed forces are intact and undefeated. They have had several years of combat experience in Syria, from which they emerged victorious. Fighting a defensive war against a foreign invader, they would be a formidable force.
A land invasion of Iran is ruled out. But a bombing campaign would have only very limited effects on Iran’s nuclear programme. It can be delayed, but not halted. However, the political fallout on a world scale would be immense. Opposition to the USA would grow, especially in the Muslim world, where the spectacle of an aggressive alliance of Saudi Arabia with US imperialism and Israel would provoke outrage. Such a development would also be deeply unpopular in the USA, where, after Iraq and Afghanistan, the population is tired of foreign military adventures.
There would be mass demonstrations in every western capital. This would also deepen the splits that already exist in the so-called western alliance, which were already evident when Trump unilaterally tore up the deal with Iran, in the teeth of protests from its European allies.
Last, but by no means least, a war in the Middle East – even a short one – would have a shattering effect on the fragile recovery of the world economy. It would provoke a crisis on every stock market in the world, oil prices would soar to new levels and investors would take fright. The capitalist system would be faced with a new world recession, which would be far deeper even than the shock of 2008.
For all these reasons, a war is not in the interest of the ruling class, or, for that matter, of Donald Trump, who is more concerned with winning the presidential election than dropping bombs on Teheran to please the Saudis and Israelis. So, for all the hot air and threats of fire and brimstone, there has been no sign of a military retaliation, either from the USA or from the Saudis themselves. This fact, more than anything else, exposes the chronic weakness of the Saudi regime and also the limitations of US power.
It is not impossible that, since his bluff has been called, Trump could do yet another 180-degree somersault and seek to arrive at some kind of a deal with the Iranians. Far stranger things have happened in the White House of Donald J. Trump!
The crisis in Pakistan has reached new levels, marked by unprecedented economic, social and political disintegration. Fractures have opened up in all the structures of the Pakistani state, with one wing seeking the support of US imperialism, and another wing looking to China for salvation. The US is negotiating with the Taliban with the aim of getting out of Afghanistan. They want the Pakistani state to help them arrive at a deal with the Taliban. But for many years, the Pakistani state, when it is not aiding them, has lost control over the Islamic fundamentalists. In response, Trump slashed US aid, launched an economic blockade and forced the IMF to withhold aid to Pakistan.
This situation served to further undermine the Pakistani state and exacerbate its internal divisions. The Pashtun region of northern Pakistan provided the main launching pad for the Taliban for several decades. The people who paid the heaviest price were the ordinary Pashtuns. Their homes were bombed and the population was displaced. Many people were killed or “disappeared”. These horrific conditions were what gave birth to the PTM, which developed into a mass movement in the last few years.
The political system has been thrown into a deep crisis, with a new party forming and a war taking place within the state. Countless scandals have resulted in a whole layer of establishment politicians and other top state officials being thrown in prison. New scandals surface every day. The economy goes from bad to worse. Inflation is rampant and everything is up for privatisation. Strikes and protests by students, doctors, nurses and other sectors are on the rise.
The political parties across the spectrum have lost support in their respective constituencies and can offer no way forward to the masses. The working class has no alternative. They are not prepared to rely on their traditional political leadership, while the trade union leadership has totally collapsed. Pakistan is therefore facing a situation like that of Sudan in the coming period. That will present the Marxist tendency with many opportunities.
In India, the political and economic crisis is deepening every day. In the general elections held in May 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was re-elected with an unprecedented majority. Modi bases himself on the most reactionary Hindu chauvinism. His first victory in the 2014 general elections was based on the slogans of “Vikas” (development) and employment for all, avoiding right-wing Hindu fundamentalist slogans. But this year, he has come out in his true colours, whipping up anti-Pakistan rhetoric and hysteria over the Kashmir issue, abrogating the special status of the region and relegating it to a union territory controlled directly by the central government.
Apart from serving Modi’s reactionary sectarian agenda, this act of naked aggression also shows India’s regional ambitions, based on its growing economy and its closer relationship with US imperialism as a regional counterweight to China. The brutal suppression of Kashmir’s rights has not gone according to plan, however.
Despite the brutal repression of the population and the presence of around six hundred thousand military personnel in the valley, the Indian state has been unable to control the mass movement in Kashmir, which has been fighting Indian domination for many years. On the contrary, these draconian measures have linked the Kashmiri national movement, which was previously isolated, with the class struggle across India. For the first time, protests and demonstrations were held all over the country in support of the oppressed people of Kashmir.
The regime is also attacking the basic rights of oppressed nationalities and religious minorities, consciously using religious hatred and national and linguistic differences to cut across the class struggle. In the eastern state of Assam, the government has stripped two million people of their citizenship and is preparing to move these into special prisons.
Modi’s rabid Hindu chauvinism is only one side of the reactionary coin. The other is viciously anti-worker and anti-labour movement. In an effort to win the backing of the capitalists at home and abroad, he poses as the “strongman” who can defeat the labour movement. But things will not go as easily as he thinks. The economy is in a very dire state. Already, between 2016 and 2018, five million Indians lost their jobs.
As the crisis deepens, more jobs will be lost. To spur growth, the Modi regime is only ramping up its attacks and aggressively pursuing the agenda of privatisation and liberalisation. All of this opens the way for an eruption of the class struggle. A sign of this is the call for a countrywide general strike on 20 January 2020, which is expected to see more than 300 million workers participate.
The central problem is not Modi’s strength. Like Putin, this “strongman” also has feet of clay. The problem is the complete lack of any serious political alternative that could counter this extreme right-wing rhetoric. The real reason why he could win the elections was the utter bankruptcy of the so-called opposition. After many decades in power, the Congress party is hopelessly discredited and corrupt.
Many liberals had pinned their hopes on Congress. But it was decimated by the Modi “wave” in the last elections. Congress has actually shifted to the right in a vain attempt to appease Hindu fundamentalist voters. But that was utterly counterproductive, since the voters inclined to Hindu chauvinism have the genuine article in the person of Modi. Why should they vote for a second-rate imitation? Congress therefore suffered a crushing defeat, which they richly deserved. Naturally, they learned nothing from their defeat and have continued to pursue the same path. In the important state of Maharashtra, they are building an alliance with the quasi-fascist Shiv Sena.
Matters are even worse – if that is possible – with the former Stalinists who dominated the Indian Left for generations and are now completely degenerate. The Communist parties have been punished by the electorate for their betrayals. They had the worst election results in their history and were wiped out in the states of West Bengal and Tripura, where they ruled for three decades. This is a direct result of the rotten methods they pursued, carrying out neo-liberal anti-working-class policies where they were in power.
Although they still have an influence on the labour, peasant and student movements, they no longer have the same authority which they enjoyed in the past. They have completely capitulated to the rotten and corrupt Indian bourgeoisie, and have abandoned any idea of the socialist transformation of society, which is the only way out of the impasse in Indian society, leaving the way open for the revolutionary ideas of genuine Marxism to gain an echo among wider layers of students and workers.
Indonesia used to be hailed as one of the miracle economies of Asia, but now it is slowing down in line with the general trend on a global scale. Faced with a slowdown, and the ensuing fiscal deficit, the government has been forced to continue with austerity measures. Twenty years since the fall of Suharto, the oppressive economic and political system that formed the foundation of the old regime remains intact, and therefore the same oppression of working people continues.
The desire of the people for radical change has been systematically frustrated by the ruling class. The coming to power of Jokowi five years ago was already an indication of the masses’ desire for change, but he has produced no fundamental improvement to people’s daily lives. With his re-election, the regime has now gone onto the offensive with a whole series of reactionary laws and measures attacking the working class and benefiting the most corrupt layer of the establishment.
There has been a whole series of movements of secondary and university students, who have come out in their tens of thousands in a wave of protests against legislation seen as a return to ‘New Order practices’ (on corruption, state intervention in personal life and political repression) and against the oppression of the West Papuan people. These were the biggest student demonstrations since the movement over twenty years ago that brought down the hated dictator Suharto, and they rapidly spread to all the main cities.
The demonstrations were met with brutal state repression and several students were killed when police shot into the crowds. The student movements spread to the working class, with the unions calling for protest actions. It was only in October 2012 that Indonesia was gripped by the first nationwide general strike since 1965. But Indonesia’s economic “success” has enormously strengthened the working class, and the global crisis of capitalism is pushing this working class onto the road of class struggle.
“Horror without end”
Following the Second World War, the gigantic upswing of the colonial revolution compelled the imperialists to abandon direct military control of the colonies. But the plunder of the former colonies still continues, although it is disguised by the mechanisms of world trade. The imperialists have devised new methods of exploitation that have drained the resources of the so-called Third World, leaving it even more enslaved and impoverished than before.
The bourgeois propagandists claim that they are helping the poor countries through aid. But a study showed that precisely the opposite is the case. Global Financial Integrity (GFI), the Centre for Applied Research at the Norwegian School of Economics and a team of global experts produced a study showing that $16.3 trillion has flowed from poor to rich countries since the 1980s. This represents an immense drain and a huge increase in social costs that have been borne by the poor people in the so-called developing countries.
The report shows how the poor countries have effectively served as net-creditors to the rest of the world. Rich countries are not developing poor countries; poor countries are developing rich ones. What do these large outflows consist of? Some of them are due to payments on debt. Interest repayments alone have robbed the debtor countries of over $4.2tn since 1980. These huge direct cash transfers to big banks in New York and London dwarf any aid they might have received during the same period.
Another important source of plunder is the income derived from investments in so-called developing countries, which is then “repatriated” by the imperialists. It is sufficient to mention the vast profits that BP extracts from Nigeria’s oil reserves, for example, or the fortunes that Anglo-American has amassed from South Africa’s gold mines.
But by far the biggest part of the loot goes unrecorded, since almost all of it is illegal, and goes under the polite name of “capital flight”. According to GFI’s estimates, the “developing countries” have lost a total of $13.4tn through unrecorded capital flight since 1980.
These outflows strip developing countries of an important source of revenue and finance for development. The increasingly large net outflows are directly responsible for falling living standards. They have also undoubtedly contributed to the slowing of economic growth rates in these countries, although they are not the main cause, which is the general crisis of world capitalism.
The misery and suffering caused by this merciless rapine has wrecked whole nations, plunging them into famine, social dislocation and war. Millions of desperate people flee from their homes, desperately seeking an escape from these horrors, only to find themselves locked out of Europe and the USA with razor wire barricades and walls. Tens of thousands of men, women and children have been drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.
This mass exodus has no parallel in history except the mass movements of the peoples that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire. It further adds to the convulsive character of the crisis. And there is no solution to this terrible nightmare as long as the rotten system that has created it continues to exist. Lenin said that capitalism is “horror without end.” The start of the 21st century shows just how right he was.
Argentina: the fall of Macri
When Macri won the Argentinean election in 2015, this was heralded as yet another proof of the “conservative wave” sweeping Latin America and of “the death of the Left”. But far from his government being strong and stable, every attempt to introduce the attacks which the ruling class need has been met with fierce resistance by the workers. Macri’s pensions reform was met with mass demonstrations and clashes with the police. After that, he abandoned his project to introduce a labour counter-reform.
The instability in international money markets led to a collapse of the Argentinean currency, throwing Macri’s economic policy into disarray. An emergency loan by the IMF was not enough to restore equilibrium. The deepening economic crisis led to a serious defeat in the primary elections in August 2019, which only served to worsen the crisis.
Had there been a clear leadership of the workers’ movement, Macri’s government could have been overthrown by a revolutionary movement from below. This was the last thing that the trade union leaders and the kirchneristas wanted, however. Their perspective was that of an orderly transfer of power after the elections.
In the end, the allegedly strong government of Macri suffered defeat at the polls. But a kirchnerista government will be faced with the deep crisis of Argentine capitalism. It will be a government of crisis from the beginning. Such conditions are tailor-made for the growth of the left. Unfortunately, the Argentinean left is dominated by sectarian groups which veer from reformism to sectarianism, unable to gain a serious foothold amongst the masses.
The election of Bolsonaro marked a new and convulsive stage in the crisis of Brazil. Bolsonaro was not the preferred candidate of the majority of the Brazilian bourgeoisie, and his election only serves to exacerbate all the contradictions in Brazilian society, without solving any one of the fundamental problems. Predictably, many sections of the left have raised a hue and cry about “fascism”, but this is a very peculiar “fascism” indeed. Far from being a fascist government, as many on the left say, it is an attempt to install a Bonapartist government in the midst of a deep economic crisis and a turbulent social and political situation that he has not been able to control.
As an individual, Bolsonaro, a former army officer, is probably inclined to fascism (he has openly praised the Brazilian dictatorship). But his real base is very narrow. His own cabinet is divided. He does not even have a firm grip on parliament. His proposal to reform the pension system and his cuts to education provoked a wave of mass demonstrations and a general strike. His popularity and that of his government has dropped sharply.
The Brazilian section of the IMT were the only ones to raise the slogan “Out with Bolsonaro”. This was at first met with scepticism by the “Lefts” and the sects who were obsessed with the idea that fascism had arrived in Brazil. But at the first two massive demonstrations against the education cuts, this slogan spread like wildfire.
As he continues to implement his programme of cuts and counter-reforms, there will be one movement after another. Only the utter bankruptcy of the leadership of the trade unions can give him breathing space. At a certain point, the ruling class might decide to remove him and replace him with a safer pair of hands. In the meantime, Bolsonaro will preside over a government of crisis that will antagonise the workers and youth and propel them into struggle.
The forty million strong general strike in June 2019 – although the trade union leaders did not know what to do with it – is an indication of the kind of movement we can expect to see in the coming period. The perspective for Brazil in the coming period is not “fascism”, but an enormous intensification of the class struggle.
In Venezuela, we have pointed out consistently that it is impossible to make half a revolution. In the final analysis, either the revolution will expropriate the bankers and capitalists or the counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie will destroy the revolution. That remains the case today. It is impossible to combine elements of socialist nationalisation with a market economy. The result has been chaos, as we predicted long ago, and a massive collapse in the living standards of the workers.
In order to silence the inevitable protests, Maduro is using Bonapartist methods, and this tendency is accelerating. The government uses the weight of the state against any dissenters – including against Chavistas and left-wingers. By actively undermining the revolution, destroying the few remaining elements of workers’ control and attacking the Left, the bureaucracy is sabotaging the revolution far more effectively than the counterrevolutionary opposition ever could. They are acting like a man who is sawing the branch he is sitting on.
Under these conditions, it is really extraordinary that the loyalty of the masses to the revolution has lasted this long. Yet, twenty-two years after the start of the Venezuelan Revolution, despite the helpless confusion and vacillations of Maduro and the rottenness of the bureaucracy, the Bolivarian Revolution has not been overthrown. This is a striking proof of the weakness of US imperialism and the incredible resilience of the masses. Despite the strenuous efforts of the counterrevolution, the representatives of capitalism in Venezuela have failed to achieve their aims. The attempted coup in 2019 ended in an inglorious farce.
On the surface, all the factors appeared to favour such an attempt: the economy was in a deep crisis and living standards were falling sharply. This had eroded support for the government. Right-wing governments had been elected in Chile, Argentina and Brazil. The ruling class in Venezuela and the US concluded – not unreasonably – that this was the right moment for an all-out offensive to overthrow Maduro.
Yet the attempt at regime change in Venezuela failed and we must understand why. There were a number of reasons. Firstly, the organizers of the coup and their paymasters in Washington underestimated the deep anti-imperialist feelings among the Venezuelan masses who reacted against the attempt. They also miscalculated the degree to which the army tops had been bought over by all kinds of corrupt deals that gave them a stake in the existing order.
Another factor was the stupidity of the Venezuelan opposition. Guaidó was whipping up expectations that he could never deliver. The middle class, which makes up the main social base of Guaidó and co., is an inherently unstable force. They need to see a movement that is constantly advancing from one victory to another. When they saw that the coup was not advancing, they were demoralised and the whole thing unravelled very quickly.
In spite of Trump’s tough talk, the Pentagon had no intention of getting involved in a military intervention in Venezuela, and neither did the armies of Colombia and Brazil. Their bluff was called and Trump was left looking very foolish. Once this threat was removed from the equation, there was no reason for the tops of the military in Caracas to switch sides. Seeing this, Russia and China, which at first adopted the approach of wait and see, intervened more decisively on the side of the government and Trump suddenly lost interest in the whole affair.
However, the danger of counterrevolution has not disappeared. Now Venezuela has been hit by new sanctions. That has helped to force the government to the negotiating table, where they will be pressed into making some concessions. In the meantime, the process that was already taking place has accelerated. The Chinese want their money back. All this means that, from a mad policy of monetary expansion, Maduro will have to move towards a monetarist policy of balanced budgets and austerity, making the workers pay.
The last attempted coup collapsed, not so much as the result of the government’s strength but mainly from the sheer ineptitude of those behind the attempt. It is true that a section of the masses did respond, but a far greater number remained inert and apathetic. That is the main danger facing the revolution. The next time, Maduro may not be so lucky. In any event, the present unstable equilibrium cannot last forever, and time is not on Maduro’s side.
In Bolivia, events turned out very differently. Evo Morales was overthrown by a reactionary coup in November 2019. The MAS came into office after the abortive revolutionary uprisings in 2003 and 2005, when the workers could have taken power had it not been for their leadership. The whole movement then expressed itself in electoral terms through a vote for Evo Morales, who used his authority to re-establish the legitimacy of the bourgeois state.
His vice-president García Linera theorised about the need to develop “Andean-Amazonian capitalism” before one could speak of socialism. While the government was able to fund social programmes on the basis of high prices of raw materials, and also carried out some nationalisations, its policy was one of seeking accommodation with the capitalists, the landowners and the multinationals.
This led to the alienation of many sections of the MAS’s base of support which produced a collapse in its vote, from 60-64 percent at its peak, to losing the constitutional referendum in 2016 and then getting 47 percent in the 2019 election. That was the moment the oligarchy had been waiting for to carry out the removal of Evo from power, through a combination of mass mobilisations, a police mutiny and the intervention of the army – a reactionary coup.
The example of Bolivia is a very clear warning of what one can expect when a government talks about revolution and social change, but remains within the confines of capitalism.
Ecuador, Chile, Colombia …
However, the idea that there has been a shift to the right or a “conservative wave” in Latin America, peddled by former lefts, demoralised academics and sectarians alike, is completely false. After a period of more-or-less stable governments, propped up by the high price of raw materials, we now see a sharpening of the class struggle.
There are numerous indications of this, including: the massive movement in Puerto Rico in July-August 2019, the protracted uprising in Haiti, the mass uprising in Ecuador in October 2019, when the question of power was posed and, above all, the marvellous uprising in Chile, a country long considered by bourgeois commentators as a triumph and an oasis within the continent for conservatism.
Both in Ecuador and Chile, we have seen classic features of an insurrectionary situation, with mass mobilisations, the setting up of embryonic soviets (cabildos, peoples’ and territorial assemblies), the governments being put on the ropes and even signs of cracks appearing within the state apparatus. Even in a country like Colombia, considered to be a bulwark of reaction, the general strike of November 21, 2019 was clearly inspired by events in Ecuador and Chile. That this massive strike continued beyond the 21st is the clearest indication that the workers were striving for power. However one wishes to describe the situation in Latin America, a “conservative wave” it certainly is not.
In Chile, the question of a Constituent Assembly (CA) has been raised in the movement. It is quite true that the 1980 constitution contains many undemocratic elements, even from the point of view of formal bourgeois democracy. The problem is that the slogan of the Constituent Assembly can and will be used by different classes with very different meanings.
When the masses talk of a Constituent Assembly, what they mean is a fundamental change of regime. But when the ruling class is faced with the threat of revolutionary overthrow, they will support the idea of a Constituent Assembly for precisely the opposite reason: to try to prevent a fundamental change by diverting the mass movement along bourgeois constitutional lines.
We need to explain that, at the end of the day, what Chile needs is not a new Constitution, but a fundamental change of regime: that is to say, the overthrow of the bourgeois state and its replacement by a new and genuinely democratic regime of workers’ state power. That means raising the slogan of “Down with Piñera”, spreading and coordinating the cabildos (councils) and assemblies so that they become genuine organisms of workers’ power.
Only a National Assembly of the Working Class and the People (the name is a secondary matter, as long as the power is in the hands of the workers and dispossessed) can be trusted to work out a new constitution that is genuinely democratic and represents the interest of the majority of the people, not a fraudulent formal “democracy”, which merely serves as a hypocritical disguise behind which is hidden the dictatorship of the landlords, bankers and capitalists.
The crisis in Venezuela is having a negative effect on Cuba. Venezuela has been forced to cut off most of its supply of cheap oil to Cuba, which is now experiencing black outs for the first time since the “special period” that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. In addition to this, the US administration has toughened its policy towards Cuba, putting a limit on remittances that Cuban Americans can send back home and preventing American tourists from going to Cuba, which was an important source of revenue for the island.
They have also activated a section of the Helms-Burton Act, which strengthens the embargo and the blockade. This savage assault on the economy represents a determined attempt by Trump – and previously by Bolton – cheered on by the reactionary Cuban emigres in Miami, to strangle the Cuban Revolution. From the standpoint of imperialism, this was a very short-sighted and stupid policy, typical of a short-sighted and stupid administration.
The previous policy of semi-détente pursued by Obama was a far more effective way of undermining the revolution, by slowly entangling it in the embrace of capitalism and market economics by relaxing restrictions on trade, investment and tourism. Now, the new measures will compel the Cuban regime to batten down the hatches again.
The leadership in Cuba is talking about rationing and perhaps going back to a new special period. This is happening at a time when the opening up of small capitalist businesses was advancing rapidly, creating for the first time a social base for capitalist counterrevolution, which flexed its muscles over the referendum on constitutional reform. Now the move towards capitalism will be halted, or at least slowed down.
The Cuban Marxists must fight against capitalist restoration, but must explain that the only way to save the gains of the Cuban Revolution is by introducing genuine workers’ democracy and breaking the isolation of the Cuban Revolution by carrying out a revolutionary internationalist policy throughout Latin America.
The election of the Lopez Obrador government represented an important change in Mexico. It has accelerated all the processes and aggravated all the contradictions. The main element in the situation is the speed at which events are taking place. AMLO has taken measures against the privileges of the corrupt Mexican bourgeoisie and its state. He has also introduced unprecedented social welfare benefits, which benefit millions of people. Consequently, he enjoys huge support.
He talks of the need for a deep transformation of the state, to separate political and economic power. He has the delusion that it is possible to create a state that stands above the classes. He has sent to jail sections of the ruling class involved in corruption – but at the same time he promises them big profits to be made in projects like the Maya railway. He has considered a wage increase of 16 percent, but any workers’ struggles that become too dangerous are stopped by the state apparatus.
AMLO is trying to face in two directions at the same time. He wishes to strengthen the state, but he forgets the little detail that the state he wishes to strengthen is a bourgeois state, a state that is designed to defend the interests of the landlords, bankers and capitalists. He will increase state intervention in the economy in order to provide cheap loans to business, and build up the civil guard, a military police body, in order to fight the narcos. In reality, however, nobody can say where the world of the big drug barons ends and that of the bankers, capitalists and state bureaucrats begins.
AMLO would like to reach an agreement with the ruling class, but the latter do not trust him and are striving to get rid of him by any means possible. In spite of the fact that he has said that he will not touch the property of the capitalists, the bourgeois media have launched a ferocious attack on him. The ruling class is using its control of the state apparatus and the judiciary to sabotage the government. He is trying to reconcile irreconcilable class interests. In other words, he is trying to square the circle.
A further indication of the contradictions in his policies is his submission to US imperialism. When Trump threatened to impose tariffs on all Mexican imports to the US, in order to force the Mexican authorities to implement his migration policy, AMLO caved in. He sent the National Guard to the southern and northern border. This shows to what extent the government is under the thumb of imperialism. The present situation is unsustainable. The world economic crisis will hit Mexico particularly hard, and the Trump administration is still threatening to introduce tariffs.
This will further deepen the split between the AMLO government and the ruling class and also the divisions within Morena, where the bureaucracy is moving to the right, while the rank-and-file supporters of AMLO are moving to the left. Since there are no real organised forces to the left of the government, its support has increased. The ferment in the ranks will open up many possibilities for the Mexican Marxists, who are intervening actively in the debates, counterposing clear revolutionary alternatives to confused left reformism, combining support for AMLO against the right wing with consistent but friendly criticism.
The word fascism is frequently used incorrectly to describe any right-wing reactionary government, like that of Bolsonaro, or even that of Donald Trump. This misuse of terminology is scientifically incorrect and politically misleading. It is also dangerous, because when a real danger of fascism is posed, the working class may not be able to recognize it. For that reason, the hysterical shouting and bawling of the sects about “fascism” is criminally irresponsible.
In the past, the situation of such extreme volatility that we see in many countries would have been expressed in a movement of the ruling class in the direction of fascist or Bonapartist reaction. But this is ruled out at the present time because of the change in the class balance of forces. The working class is stronger than in the past, while the middle layers that traditionally formed the mass social base of reaction (the peasantry, small business people, the students) have been whittled away or proletarianised.
Trotsky explains that fascism is a particular form of reaction that is qualitatively different from other forms, such as Bonapartism. Fascism is a mass movement of the petit bourgeoisie and lumpenproletariat, the aim of which is the total destruction of the organisations of the working class. In a fascist regime, the ruling class tends to lose control of the state, which falls into the hands of fascist gangsters who rule in their own interests, which do not always correspond exactly with those of the bankers and capitalists, and may even run directly in contradiction to them.
The handing of power to a madman like Hitler would be a very risky step, which the bourgeoisie would only contemplate as the very last resort, when it felt threatened with overthrow by the working class. In the case of Nazi Germany, it led to a catastrophe. By 1944, it was clear that Germany had lost the war. The bourgeoisie would have liked to surrender and do a deal with the Americans. But Hitler, who in the end was showing all the signs of clinical insanity, refused to surrender, preferring to see his country consumed in flames, as in the end of one of Wagner’s operas.
This lesson has not been lost on the bourgeoisie, which normally prefers a regime of formal bourgeois democracy. This form of rule is more stable, more reliable and more economical than a fascist or Bonapartist dictatorship, which, in addition to carrying very expensive overheads, contains many dangers and can ultimately turn into its opposite, as we saw both in Italy in 1943-45 and in Greece after the fall of the Junta in 1974.
To understand the real situation, it is sufficient to look at Greece today. The impossibility of moving towards fascism was shown most clearly in the case of Greece. The Golden Dawn, a genuinely fascist organisation, was growing and developing into a serious force. A few years ago, they even had the idea of taking power. But where is the Golden Dawn now?
It may be that a section of the Greek ruling class was toying with the idea of a new Junta to discipline the working class, but it was forced to retreat and rein in the fascists for fear of provoking a revolutionary explosion. In the end, the Greek bourgeoisie couldn’t allow them to take power, because that would have meant civil war, and they could not be sure of winning. They would risk losing everything. So, they took action against the Golden Dawn and put some of the leaders in jail.
Far from basing itself on the fascists, who represent an insignificant factor in most countries, the ruling class is forced to base itself on the support of the leaders of the workers’ traditional organisations, the reformist and Stalinist parties and the trade unions. But this has led to a sharp decline of both the traditional workers’ and bourgeois parties – a development that threatens to undermine the very foundations on which the system of bourgeois democracy has rested for many decades. This is the key to understanding the tremendous political volatility in society today.
It is a measure of the confusion of the bourgeois commentators that they are unable to provide any coherent explanation of what is occurring. An example of this confusion is the unscientific use of terminology. They use the word “populism” to describe any political movement that does not please them.
These so-called experts lump together under a single category phenomena that are not merely different, but completely antagonistic and mutually incompatible: Hugo Chavez and Marine Le Pen, Jeremy Corbyn and Matteo Salvini – all are supposed to be the same thing – “populism”. The fact that they stand for opposite aims and base themselves on different class forces, all this is considered irrelevant by these academic ladies and gentlemen.
The 2007-08 recession had a deep impact on the consciousness of the masses across the world. After an initial period of shock, there came a reaction in the form of the Indignados movement in Spain, Occupy, the Arab Spring, Syntagma Square. It provoked a questioning of the capitalist system and its institutions and parties. In a second stage, this led to the rise of parties and movements which were seen as on the radical left (Syriza, Podemos, Corbyn, Mélenchon, Sanders). Some of these eventually revealed their limits, while others will do so in the coming period.
In this context, it is hardly surprising that there has been the emergence of new parties and movements. It is not accidental that these movements have a mainly petit-bourgeois composition. Although they attract the attention of the most active left-wing workers, these parties and movements (Podemos is a good – or rather, bad example) are made up of petit bourgeois, academics and other accidental elements. That is especially true of their leading layers, which display all the most negative elements of petit-bourgeois ideas and prejudices.
To say these people are confused is an understatement. They imagine that they stand for “new ideas”, which they have invented to lead the people to the Promised Land as Moses led the Israelites across the Red Sea. By ditching all the “old ideas” (i.e., Marxism) they imagine that they are throwing away useless ballast. In reality, they are throwing away the life-jacket that could save them from death by drowning.
They imagine that, being free of “dogma” (i.e. principles and theory) they are superior to the “utopian” Marxists. In reality, they are infinitely inferior, not only to the Marxists but to the great Utopian socialists of the past, who, despite their errors, were gigantic thinkers compared to the postmodernist pygmies of today. In practice, they are the worst kind of dogmatists, rigidly defending all the new “trendy” dogmas of identity politics, post-modernism and the rest of the intellectual garbage that is constantly turned out by the universities as a means of confusing the youth and combating Marxism.
The hopeless ideological confusion of these new formations renders them inherently unstable. They can rise rapidly, but soon after, enter into crisis, split and go into decline, as we see with Podemos in Spain. Its main leader, Pablo Iglesias, gained a lot of popularity initially because he made radical-sounding speeches. That aroused the hopes of millions of people who were looking for a left alternative. Now Iglesias has become a “realist”. He dropped his former radical rhetoric and entered a coalition with the PSOE. His main demand (it seemed to be the only one) was that Podemos must have ministers in the government of Pedro Sanchez. That was foolish.
By insisting on entering the government, the leaders of Podemos gave the impression that they were just another bunch of opportunist politicians, hungry for the “fruits of office” (an impression that is not very far from the truth) and also that they were not very clever people (which is also a fair assessment). This perception led inevitably to disappointment and demoralisation and a collapse of the party’s activist base and electoral support.
It is not clear whether Podemos (now Unidas Podemos) will survive or disappear, but the latter is entirely possible, since these parties are unstable and ephemeral phenomena. There is a general law that if the workers are confronted by two reformist parties, with no clear programmatic differences between them, the bigger party will gain and the smaller parties will tend to disappear. The PSOE is now gaining at the expense of Podemos, which has been given a very good lesson on the value of “practical politics.”
The emergence of these new movements is an early expression of the fact that the masses are desperately seeking a way out of the crisis. They are watching very carefully the leaders of the parties in a way they did not in the past. They are putting these parties and leaders to the test. They put them into government – but if they don’t deliver, if they betray, the masses will throw them out unceremoniously. That applies just as much to the new formations as to the old reformist parties. That is shown by the case of the Five Star Movement in Italy, which at first aroused the hopes and illusions of many people, but in the end went up like a rocket and down like a stick. It will not be the last case.
These new movements are really only an anticipation of the future. It is a law that a radicalisation of the middle layers, especially the students and intellectuals, is among the first signs of revolutionary developments. That is important, of course, but only as a symptom. The most important fact is that, so far, the mass of the working class has not begun to move in a meaningful way, as a class. When that occurs, the confused petit-bourgeois elements will be thrust to one side and the whole situation will be rapidly transformed.
The mass organisations
Trotsky explained long ago that betrayal is implicit in reformism. That does not mean, of course, that these leaders always and in every case deliberately set out to betray the working class. Some of them may sincerely believe that they are acting in the interests of the workers who vote for them. But what is common to all kinds of reformists (the “left” as well as the right varieties) is that they have no confidence in the working class and do not believe that the workers can run society.
The historical role of the reformists (and Stalinists) was to direct the discontent of the masses into safe channels. But their absolute degeneration has changed the equation. It was always present, but it has deepened and intensified over the last 60 years. If you accept the capitalist system, then you must obey the laws of capitalism and the market. From that point of view, the right reformists are far more consistent than the “Lefts”. They wholeheartedly carry out the austerity policies dictated by the bankers and capitalists, in order to save capitalism.
The depth of the present crisis rules out any possibility of meaningful reforms. On the contrary, the bourgeois say they cannot even afford to maintain the reforms that were conquered by the working class in the past. Their policy is: cut, cut and cut again. Therefore, in one way or another, a process of radicalisation is taking place all over the world. However, this is not generally being reflected – at this stage – in any serious way in the mass organisations. Consequently, the reformist leaders, although in many cases they still have a mass base, do not have the same unquestioning authority that they once enjoyed.
In general, the present leaders are not like the leaders in the past. The old Social Democratic leaders had some connection with the working class. Many of them came from the working class, and at least they knew about the conditions. They had some connection with socialism, giving speeches on socialism on May Day, and so forth. What is the situation now? The present leaders are almost entirely drawn from the middle class: university lecturers, lawyers, solicitors, economists and the like.
The lower stratum of the petit-bourgeois is closer to the working class, but the upper layers are closer to the bourgeois and they naturally support the interests of the bourgeoisie on all fundamental questions. They have absolutely no understanding of, nor even contact with, the working class. Their lifestyle, living standards, social milieu and psychology set them entirely apart. This is an important new factor in the situation. Exactly the same is true of the Stalinists, who degenerated to the point of being indistinguishable from the Social Democrats.
The present-day ex-Stalinists have faithfully retained all the vices of the Stalinist gangsters of the past but they do not keep up any pretence of being Communists or revolutionaries. They are the most disgusting breed of reformists. And they play an openly counterrevolutionary role, particularly in the unions, where they act as a “left” cover for the right-wing bureaucracy.
On the basis of these conditions, some parties that were mass parties of the working class have been entirely destroyed – liquidated. In Italy, the PCI was the biggest Communist Party outside the USSR (except Indonesia, until the massacre of 1965). But where is the Italian Communist Party today? It has been completely destroyed. PASOK in Greece is also destroyed and it is not clear that it can make a comeback. In other places where they have survived, these organisations still have a mass base in the class. That is particularly the case in some countries in northern Europe.
The roots of the British Labour Party in the working class run deep. In Austria, too, the Social Democracy had profound roots, which will not disappear just like that. But the leadership is rotten and entirely petit-bourgeois or bourgeois in composition. When Corbyn was elected party leader, however, the situation in the Labour Party rapidly experienced a radical change. People were queuing up to join the Labour Party, the youth in particular.
What this shows is that the mood of radicalisation was already present. Corbyn did not create it. The mood already existed, but it didn’t have a means of expressing itself. It required a catalyst, and that is what Corbyn provided. If he had not done so, that mood would have eventually expressed itself, one way or another, but not necessarily through the Labour Party.
The crisis of reformism
The situation everywhere is extremely volatile and fluid. We must follow it closely and show the greatest amount of flexibility in our tactics to reach the most revolutionary layers in society. There can be no room for routinism and formalism.
In the 1930s, Trotsky advised his followers in Britain and France to work in the mass organisations of the Social Democracy. He raised this idea in the context of a definite situation of social crisis, rapid polarisation and rise of mass left (“centrist”) tendencies in countries such as Britain, France, and Spain. But what is the situation today? Everywhere, the crisis of capitalism means the crisis of reformism. Yet nowhere in the world, with the exception of Britain, has that brought about the emergence of a serious left current within the traditional organisations.
We must guard against abstract schemas that do not correspond with reality. The present situation in the mass organisations is not the same as that which Trotsky described. Even in Britain, the tendency represented by Corbyn – although it undoubtedly represents a big step forward that has transformed British politics – is only a very pale reflection of the ILP before the Second World War. That is why our focus in the last period has been on systematic youth work, with excellent results.
In Britain, as in other countries, our main emphasis is still the youth, most of whom sympathise with Corbyn but are not actively involved in the Labour Party.
This, however, does not mean that we should a priori rule out the mass organisations. It is not ruled out that, in some countries, there may be major developments in the reformist organisations in the next period. We must always keep an eye on them.
Our main task, however, is to win and educate the best elements of the youth, and turn them towards the Labour movement and the working class. That is the only way to gather together the mass forces of Marxism that are needed to carry out the socialist revolution in Britain. Before we can speak seriously about preparing for power, it is first necessary to prepare to conquer the masses, and this starts first and foremost with the winning of the advanced layers.
A new recession after the experience of the last 10 years will have a profound effect on consciousness which will be even deeper. We must be prepared to witness mass movements, the emergence of left organisations and currents, but also their collapse. The period will be one of sharp changes and sudden turns, which will create conditions even more fertile for the growth of the Marxist tendency. Our task is to wage a forceful struggle in defence of the principles of Marxism, while at the same time showing the utmost of tactical flexibility, fighting to build the revolutionary organisation by acting and intervening in the class struggle.
Crisis of the sects
The sects who eke out a miserable existence on the fringes of the labour movement play a most pernicious role everywhere. They spread confusion, miseducate and disorient those who have the misfortune to come under their influence, and they discredit the very ideas of Trotskyism in the eyes of the working class. Trotsky’s method is a closed book for them. They also have no understanding of dialectics and so they’re blown this way and that at every turn of events. They are superficial empirics and pragmatists of the worst sort.
Every time there’s an increase of the votes of right-wing parties – something that is inevitable under present conditions – the sectarians start yelling: “Fascism! Fascism!” That shows the criminal irresponsibility of the ultra-lefts, who are in despair because they have lost all confidence in the ability of the working class to change society. This is the common denominator shared by the ultra-left sectarians and reformists.
It is interesting to note that precisely at this time, the sects are in crisis, splitting and disintegrating everywhere. After the collapse of the ISO and the implosion of the CWI, we have the split off of Altamira from the PO in Argentina. This is no accident. The sectarians have no understanding of the processes that are unfolding. They are disoriented and pessimistic. It is no coincidence that, precisely now, when the crisis of capitalism and reformism opens up the most favourable conditions for revolutionaries, these groups are in crisis, splitting and falling apart. However, this is a very positive development, because it removes one more obstacle from our path.
The reason they are collapsing is that they are not really Marxists at all. Their total lack of theory means that they have capitulated to petit-bourgeois ideologies, such as identity politics. As a result, they are thrown off balance by every wind that blows. They are infected with the disease of scepticism. They are pessimistic because they have no understanding of the way the working class moves. By contrast, our firmness on principles and solid grasp of theory have enabled us to work out the correct perspectives and tactics. That is the explanation of why we are growing and finding a way to reach the best layers of the workers and youth.
The Taaffeite sect (aka, the CWI) is a horrible hybrid of extreme sectarianism and extreme opportunism. It was really a variant of the trend that Lenin described as economists, that is to say, a tendency that has abandoned Marxist theory and tries to obtain short-term successes by adapting to the prevailing winds and reducing politics to the lowest common denominator. But why did Lenin say: “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement”?
More than twenty-five years ago, this sect expelled Ted Grant and abandoned the Labour Party, irresponsibly throwing away the excellent results we had achieved over four decades, confidently predicting that they would “grow by leaps and bounds”. They were looking for a short cut to success. Ted warned that it would be a “short cut over a cliff”. Events have shown how right he was. They then put up candidates in elections, who stood on a completely reformist programme, raising single-issue campaigns, e.g. campaigning against water charges in Ireland, etc. Having completely lost any understanding of Marxist theory, they naturally fell under the influence of alien class ideas, notably trendy identity politics, which was one of the main reasons for their recent catastrophic split.
Like all the other sects, in Britain they buried themselves in the trade unions, imagining that this was the way to link up with the workers. Trade union work is, of course, an important and necessary part of revolutionary work. But like all our work, it must be conducted in a revolutionary, not a routinist and bureaucratic manner. The main source of their error is to try to gain positions in the unions without first building a solid base. Instead of patiently developing revolutionary cadres in the unions, they try to gain “influence”.
Trotsky warned that we must not “reap where we have not sown”. Revolutionary work in the trade unions is patient work, gradually building up a serious base, which takes time. To try to find shortcuts by all kinds of manoeuvres and combinations is a certain recipe for opportunist and bureaucratic degeneration. The experience of the Taaffeite sect in the PCS union in Britain, which ended in a complete debacle, is a very clear proof of this. With their false methods, they became so entangled with the day-to-day union activity that they failed to see the important processes that were taking place in the rest of the working class and the youth.
What the sectarians have failed to understand is that, at this stage, the most revolutionary elements are mainly not to be found in the trade union branches. These are dominated by older workers, many of whom are pessimistic and are pulled in the direction of opportunism. Those same attitudes have rubbed off on the sects, who are invariably infected with what Trotsky described as “gangrenous scepticism”, albeit disguised with a pseudo-revolutionary verbiage. With people like that, nothing can be done. Real Marxists must follow Lenin’s advice: dig deeper into the class. Look beyond the so-called advanced layer of union activists and seek contacts with the most exploited and militant layers!
Capitalism and the environment
In their ruthless search for profits, the capitalists are poisoning the food we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink. They are killing the oceans, tearing down the rain forests and exterminating animal species at an alarming rate. If the capitalist system is allowed to continue, the future of the human race will be threatened – and possibly life on earth.
It must be admitted that we ourselves did not pay sufficient attention to these issues in the past. We should take immediate steps to remedy that deficiency. It goes without saying that we approach the environmental questions from a revolutionary, class point of view, linking it to the need to expropriate the bankers and capitalists and to create a genuinely harmonious, democratic planned society, nationally and internationally. We explain that there is no such thing as sustainable capitalism and we denounce the fact that the bourgeoisie seeks to co-opt and divert the struggle in defence of the environment for its own class interests.
We must approach the environmentalists in a friendly manner, supporting them whenever they make correct criticisms of the destructive nature of the present system. But we must criticise the reactionary, neo-Malthusian ideas about limiting economic growth, population, etc. Those false ideas, which Marx answered long ago, will be used by the bourgeois reactionaries as a justification for the policies of cuts and austerity (“You see! We need to cut consumption to save the planet!”).
The “Greens” often complain that Marx and Engels paid no attention to the environment. That is completely false. In a marvellously profound passage from The Dialectics of Nature, Engels states:
“Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human conquest over nature. For each such conquest takes its revenge on us. Each of them, it is true, has in the first place the consequences on which we counted, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first. (...) at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature – but that we, with flesh, blood, and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other beings of being able to know and correctly apply its laws.” (Dialectics of Nature, IX: The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man, 1883)
Methods we use to increase productivity can turn into their opposite and destroy the potential for growth altogether. Recent developments in agriculture show that to be correct. Indiscriminate use of insecticides and artificial fertiliser have decimated insect populations, impoverished the soil and introduced all kinds of harmful substances into the food chain.
That is not an argument against technological innovation in agriculture (we do not wish to go back to the wooden plough) but it is an unanswerable argument in favour of socialist planning and the rational, controlled use of science for the benefit of all humanity, not the greed of a few.
Revolutionary potential of the youth
In his struggle against the economist deviation, Lenin also insisted that the proletariat must not only fight for economic demands (wages and conditions) but must take up the fight for political demands that reflect the problems and aspirations of other layers of society. Nowadays, many people who are not organised get radicalised on issues which are not directly economic. The revolt of the school students on environmental issues is an excellent example.
A clear symptom of the radicalisation of the youth were the climate strikes, which brought hundreds of thousands of school kids onto the streets. This was an entirely new development, with great possibilities for the future. These new layers are not encumbered with the moods of pessimism and scepticism that have affected many of the older generation.
The stale atmosphere of routinism that exists in many branches of the reformist labour and trade union organisations is entirely absent here. These young people are not interested in petty reforms. They want a root-and-branch change in society. They want to change the world. In a word, they want a revolution. These conditions will allow the Marxist tendency to build far more rapidly and easily than in the past.
The decrepit old sceptics (including the ones who pose as “Lefts” and even “Marxists”) have a patronising attitude to the youth. They pat them on the head and say: “Very good, but when you are older and wiser, you will come to realise that you cannot change the world. Rather, the world will change you. Revolution is a dream and an illusion. We must limit ourselves to what is possible.”
We, on the contrary, say to the youth: “it is not the case that people get older and wiser. [...] You are quite right to say the world must be changed. That requires a revolution, and if we do not succeed, the conditions for barbarism will be created. In fact, if the workers fail to take power when the opportunities arise, the very future of the planet will be placed in great danger.”
There is an extremely rebellious mood developing among the youth. The objective situation is moving rapidly and the demands of the movement are radical but what is lacking is the subjective factor. There is a huge vacuum on the Left, but no one is providing the youth with the ideas that they’re demanding. That is why accidental characters like Greta Thunberg can temporarily fill this vacuum.
The same thing can be said about the movements against women’s oppression. In country after country (Spain, Argentina, Switzerland, Ireland, Poland, Italy, etc.), we have seen mass mobilisations for abortion rights, against violence against women, for equal pay and against discrimination. In all of these, the youth have played a key role. These are mainly fresh layers entering the struggle for the first time. We must intervene energetically in these movements, providing a clear revolutionary alternative, while combatting the bourgeois and petit-bourgeois feminist ideas which dominate in the leadership.
Of all the layers that are moving into struggle, the youth is the most open to revolutionary ideas. It is an urgent priority of the International to intervene in this milieu. Conservative and routinist attitudes to this important work are completely unacceptable. The correct approach was shown by a young Russian comrade who took a very bold initiative in launching a Left Fraction at the August 2019 Summit of FFF in Switzerland.
That immediately got a response among radicalised young people in many countries, who are dissatisfied with the anaemic, reformist programme of middle-class tendencies like Greenpeace. The IMT must give full support to this initiative and pursue it energetically. It will be an excellent way of winning the most combative and revolutionary elements of the youth. By intervening boldly with revolutionary slogans, by taking timely initiatives to stimulate the mass protests, the Marxist tendency can win over the best elements and train a new generation of revolutionary cadres who will be capable of capturing a leading position in this important movement.
The present situation and the tasks of the Marxists
In the past, political crises like the ones we are witnessing everywhere today, would not have lasted for long, a few months, perhaps a couple of years. It would end either in fascism or Bonapartism, or the victory of the working class. But in developing the economy, the bourgeoisie has also developed the working class. Society has been proletarianised like never before. Therefore, any attempt to push the working class back and take away the gains of the past period will provoke fierce resistance.
Here, the bourgeoisie is faced with a serious problem. The mass social reserves of fascism have been whittled away, while the working class is stronger than ever. The peasantry, which was very large before the Second World War in Europe, has been reduced to a small minority. The social reserves of reaction have been weakened.
This is a vital new element in the equation. Fifty years of unprecedented growth that followed World War II have shifted the balance of forces overwhelmingly in favour of the working class. This creates an immensely favourable development from the point of view of the balance of class forces.
The betrayal of the Stalinist and Socialdemocratic leaders, which held back the struggle of the masses against capitalism in the aftermath of the Second World War, was the political precondition for a long period of economic upswing. This created serious problems for the Marxists in the developed capitalist countries. It tended to cut across the class struggle for a long time, fostering illusions in capitalism and reformism. But now there has been a fundamental change. Dialectically, all the factors that created a basis for stability have changed into their opposite. The capitalist system is heading towards a historical crisis, which explains the current political and social instability.
By 2050, 66 percent of the world’s population will live in cities – up from 30 percent in 1960. This fact alone shows an important change of balance of forces worldwide. In China, the urban population has increased from 15 percent in the early part of the 20th century to 60 percent today. In Sudan, the equivalent figures are 5 percent in the 1960s up to 33 percent today. This numerical growth is accompanied by a huge growth in the social weight of the working class. Countries that were previously rural and agricultural have been rapidly industrialised.
Objectively speaking, the working class has never been so strong. However, the mood of discontent amongst the masses, finding, in general, no reflection in the traditional mass organisations, expresses itself in different ways in different countries. But what is fundamental is the irresistible process of radicalisation of the masses on the global scale, which is expressed in violent swings to the left and right. The process of radicalisation will intensify as the crisis unfolds, provoking an even sharper polarisation between the classes and preparing the way for even bigger revolutionary explosions.
Conclusion: for revolutionary optimism!
Marxists are optimistic by their very nature, but our optimism is not something that is false or artificial. It is based on serious analysis and perspectives. We base ourselves on the solid rock of Marxist theory. Our organisation can be proud of the fact that we have remained absolutely firm on the fundamental principles and the dialectical method, which enables us to penetrate beneath the surface and see the deeper processes at work.
In many ways, the present situation resembles the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. The bankers and capitalists are constantly flaunting their wealth and luxury. The world’s richest one percent are on course to control as much as two-thirds of the world’s wealth by 2030, as they sit on trillions of dollars, which they do not invest in productive activity. The ruling class is parasitic and completely degenerate. This is stoking the fires of anger and resentment everywhere.
There is huge potential for the spread of Marxist ideas. That is the main thing that we must concentrate on. We must discuss the fundamentals, not the incidentals but the general tendency. What is the common thread in all of these situations? Extreme political and social polarisation. The class struggle is on the rise everywhere.
We are growing and developing – but we are too small to be a decisive factor in the unfolding of events in the immediate future. From our point of view, it would not be a bad thing if decisive revolutionary situations were to be postponed for a while, for the simple reason that we are not ready yet. We need time to build the revolutionary alternative.
For the reasons outlined in this document, we will have some time, but we will not have all the time in the world. History moves at its own pace, and it will not wait for anybody. In a period like the present, gigantic events can occur before we are ready. Sharp and sudden turns are implicit in the situation. We must be prepared to face up to big challenges.
The best workers and youth are already wide open to our ideas. We must find the road to these layers and turn our backs decisively on the old, tired, demoralised elements. All traces of scepticism and routinism must be eliminated from our ranks, which must be infused with a spirit of urgency from top to bottom.
This is really a race against the clock. Great events can overtake us. We must be prepared. Therefore, we must build our organisation and recruit and train cadres as soon as possible. That is the only road to success. We have already entered that road.
Nothing must be allowed to distract us from this task. We have every reason to be filled with confidence in the working class, in the ideas of Marxism, in ourselves, in the International Marxist Tendency.
29 January 2020