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a socialistworld is possible: the history of the cwi by peter taaffe
new introduction

Big movements of peoples

How different the situation is today. Through the internet, worldwide satellite television and its 24-hour news, foreign travel, etc., the binding together of the world is a palpable and visible reality recognised by the majority of the world’s population!

 Television and even mobile phones are increasingly available in some of the most economically underdeveloped and deprived regions of the planet. This is a manifestation of Marx’s law of “combined and uneven development”; the latest word in technique is battened on to feudal and semi-feudal social relations. Technology is employed in economically underdeveloped societies which have yet to complete the “bourgeois-democratic, national and democratic revolution”. Involving a thoroughgoing land reform, unification of the country and the development of these societies along modern lines, this revolution was carried out by the capitalists in Europe hundreds of years ago. However, in large parts of Asia, Africa and even in Latin America, the bourgeois-democratic revolution can only be carried through by the working class coming to power and mobilising the rural population behind them, thereby establishing workers’ power – a workers and peasants’ government. This in turn would entail going over to socialist measures, on a national, continental and world scale. This is the essence of Trotsky’s ‘Theory of the Permanent Revolution’. It retains its full validity today in those countries which are kept in backwardness and poverty by capitalism through the perpetuation of feudal, semi-feudal, and archaic social and economic relations.

But humankind does not stand still and is not acquiescent in the face of stagnant or deteriorating conditions. Worldwide means of communication put on view a better life for some in the world when set against the grinding poverty of the majority. It produces a magnet for the most energetic section of the population in Africa, Asia and Latin America, or those with resources, to seek access to the advanced goods and higher living standards in Europe, in Japan and the US. There have been big movements of people, migrating from deprived areas by taking any opportunity to escape or they have been driven from their homes by wars or persecution.

The reaction of the capitalists to this is shot through with hypocrisy and contradictions. They are forced to depend on immigrants to fill low-paid sweated jobs, as well as trying to plug the “skills gap”. Through the influx of younger immigrants, they are also attempting to compensate for the aging of their populations. At the same time, the capitalists still seek to use immigrants as scapegoats for the ills of their system. Talking of “Fortress Europe” is also an attempt to outflank the European far right, who threaten the electoral position of the main capitalist parties.

However, while immigrants beat a path to the doors of the advanced industrial societies, an opposite process is taking place – a massive ‘relocation’ of jobs, both in manufacturing and in recently created ‘service’ occupations – to China, India and other parts of the ‘underdeveloped’ world. This now includes Eastern Europe, if not Russia, as well. This poses sharply on a national scale the need for a programme for workers, particularly the trade unions, to defend their jobs against this pernicious ‘outsourcing’, as well as defending the union rights of immigrant workers. This is merely the latest manifestation of the ingrained drive of the capitalists to ‘maximise’ their profits. If this be at the cost of the loss of millions of relatively high-paid jobs in the manufacturing sector replaced, they reason, in some cases only partially, by temporary lower-paid jobs in the so-called ‘service’ industries - then so be it! To take one example of the fate of workers in ‘modern’ capitalism; one third of the Spanish labour force is on temporary contracts with an average time span of ten days!

The consequence of this is the impoverishment of significant sections of the working class. Formerly high-paid, securely employed workers with hard-won rights have been replaced by a new army of the poor –not just unemployed but ‘working poor’. This is creating the conditions for a massive revolt of low-paid, impoverished sections of the working class. It could develop along the lines of the uprising of the gas workers, dockers and match workers, in Britain, during the late nineteenth century. This was paralleled by similar movements, at different stages in history, in other countries in Europe and in the US. The argument of the ‘high priests’ of capitalism is that the process of globalisation is inexorable. It cannot be stopped. Moreover, it will ultimately benefit everyone by creating new jobs in new industries, both in the neo-colonial world and in the industrialised (now becoming de-industrialised) sectors of the world economy.

Tell that to the women workers in the maquiladores in Mexico, where the venal bosses prefer female labour, usually single mothers, because they are the least able to resist through strike action the onslaught of capital’s drive to cut wages and conditions. The proponents of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – between the US, Canada and Mexico – argued that the Agreement would be for the mutual benefit of the working class in both North and Central America. Instead, millions of US jobs were relocated to Mexico, while the conditions of the working class in Mexico, allegedly ‘benefiting’ from these jobs, actually deteriorated.

From their experiences, the idea will ineluctably grow within the ranks of the working class that the employers should not be allowed to close factories like a child closing a matchbox or move productive facilities from one country or continent to another without resistance.

The need for a common policy of workers in different countries – for instance, in Europe, in the next period – co-ordinated through the trade unions for common rates, will take root amongst workers. The same process will develop in relation to workers in China, India and elsewhere. Already they are ferociously resisting the newly-arrived venal capitalism that wishes to super-exploit them and their families. This new internationalism on an industrial plane is paralleled on the political terrain. Efforts are being made, fumbling and faltering as they are, to seek to link up international, continental and world political resistance. Utopian though they are, even proposals like that of the British environmentalist writer George Monbiot to establish a ‘world parliament’ (outlined in his book ‘Age of Consent’) to check and control capitalism, are manifestations of the demands arising within the anticapitalist movement for international, political solutions to the problems which exist now.

This process has been furthered by the increased awareness of the colossal polarisation of wealth, both within and between nations, which has developed in the 1990s. The ten richest people on earth possessed, in 2002, a combined wealth of $266 billion. This is five times the annual flow of aid from rich nations to poor ones. It is roughly sufficient to pay for all the United Nations’ “millennium goals”, such as halting and reversing the spread of AIDS, malaria and other infectious diseases, reducing infant mortality by two-thirds and lowering the number of maternal deaths in childbirth by three-quarters between now and 2050.

The statistics that demonstrate the scale and depth of world poverty are well rehearsed. Big parts of the world’s population are now conscious that half of the globe lives on $2 a day or less, and one-fifth on less than $1 a day. Despite a global surplus of food, 840 million people are officially classified as malnourished, as they lack the money required to buy sufficient food. One hundred and eighty-four million people are unemployed throughout the world (and this excludes the ‘underemployed’). The World Bank has estimated that 54 countries, with a combined population of 750 million people, have actually seen deterioration in their real incomes in the past 10 years.

The real power on the planet is vested in 500 individuals (predominantly rich men and with only a few women). They control the majority of the means of production – the organisation of labour, science, technique, etc. The institutions of world capitalism – the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, buttressed by military alliances such as NATO – are subordinate ultimately to this power, which is reflected through the so-called ‘hidden hand’ of the market. National governments seem powerless against ‘investors’ who, in the new deregulated global capitalism, can bring governments to their knees unless they come to heel like obedient dogs. The Clinton presidency in the United States was forced by the pressure of the market, particularly the buyers of government debt, to abandon its tepid stimulus programme in 1993. Clinton turned himself into an “Eisenhower Republican”. This was in order to satisfy what the former president called “a bunch of fucking bond traders”.4