May Day: The growing global challenge to war, racism and capitalism

MAYDAY 2002 takes place at a time of explosive political, economic and social events worldwide. In the last few months we have witnessed one convulsion after another: the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York; war in Afghanistan; the beginning of a generalised world recession; the Enron collapse; Sharon’s bloody invasion of the West Bank and Gaza; a serious confrontation between India and Pakistan; general strikes in Italy and India; a defeated right wing coup in Venezuela…to name but just a few.

Mayday statement by the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI)

The growing global challenge to war, racism and capitalism

Over the last few days, the aftershocks of the results of the first round of presidential elections in France have been felt all across Europe. Young people are taking to the streets to resist the far right leader Le Pen, not just in France but in Brussels and other places as well. Meanwhile, a new revolutionary upsurge is impending in crisis-ridden Argentina, where banks have been shut, unemployment soars to 30% in urban areas, and economy is predicted to slump by 15% this year. The BBC reports that, "workers’ control has broken out in factories" (24/04/02).

These events – revolution and counter-revolution, in broad terms – are having a profound influence on the outlook of working people and youth everywhere. Huge swings in public opinion and political, social and economic shocks characterise the world we live in.

Millions will take to the streets on Mayday in an international display of solidarity with the oppressed and workers in struggle, and will also protest against imperialist militarisation and war plans, cuts and job losses, and against the menace of the far right and fascists. Mayday in France will see massive demonstrations by unions, the Left, anti-fascist and immigrant organisations to oppose the FN march that also takes place on 1 May. Undoubtedly, other Mayday marches will seek to emulate the French workers and youth.

These magnificent mobilisations represent a return in many ways to the pioneering, militant traditions of Mayday. They have a marked anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist character. On the basis of stormy events and struggles, the new generation will come to see the need to change society along socialist lines, and to build powerful socialist parties across the globe.

Massive political polarisation in France

The French elections revealed the massive political polarisation that is taking place in this major capitalist country. Le Pen’s second place victory has been covered a great deal by the international media. Of course for socialists his poll gains are an important issue, and it is vital that the ultra right wing menace is combated. The media has been much more reticent however about reporting the combined Trotskyist vote of over 10% – a result of historic importance.

The collapse of the vote for Jospin, the Socialist Party (social democratic) presidential candidate, and his government partners, the once powerful Communist Party, is an indication of the anger felt by many workers towards years of right wing, neo-liberal policies. In disgust at the mainstream capitalist politicians, a record number of people decided not to vote at all, following similar trends throughout Europe. There were also many workers and youth who voted for the Left alternative to Jospin, indicating the potential for revolutionary socialism.

Le Pen and the FN played down some of their more openly racist policies during the first round and opportunistically railed against the European Union and the effects of globalisation.

Le Pen was also aided by Chirac’s opportunistic ‘law and order’ election campaigning. All of the leaders of the main pro-market parties throughout Europe have reacted in ‘horror’ to Le Pen’s gains. They dread the social and political turmoil it threatens. Yet these parties play the race and immigrant cards when it suits them, in order to divert attention away from where the fault for crime, joblessness, and poor housing and public services actually lies – with the capitalist system. In Britain, the New Labour Home Secretary, David Blunkett, recently described the children of asylum seekers as "swamping" local schools. The Liberal prime minister of Australia, Howard, fabricated scare stories about asylum seekers ‘flooding’ the country during last year’s general election.

The huge anti-Le Pen demonstrations, provoked by the first round results, indicate the real attitude of the bulk of the youth and workers towards his racist policies. The Left, trade unions, students and immigrants organisations need to build on this, by forming a united front to organise demonstrations and protests, and the self-defence of immigrants and minorities against racist attacks. Le Pen’s lies have to be answered: it is immigrants and minorities that suffer the most from crime, poverty and bad housing. But it also vital to put forward a socialist programme on the social and economic issues, in order to cut the ground from under Le Pen’s feet: jobs for all and a living wage, for massive investment in health, transport, and public housing, and for the big banks and big business to be taken into public hands for the benefit of all.

The call for the economy to be taken out of the hands of the rich minority and for working class people, through democratic ownership and control, to plan society to meet the needs of the majority – a socialist society – can strike a cord with the French working class and poor, and act as the basis upon which to build on the impressive votes made by the Left. The nearly three million votes for the ‘Trotskyists’ means the Left, especially the LO (which won 10% of blue and white collar votes) and the LCR (which won the second largest vote amongst youth), now have a big opportunity to take initiatives to help create a new mass party of the working class.

The same approach needs to be taken to combat other far-right, right-populist/nationalist parties throughout Europe, such as the People’s Party in Denmark, Haider’s Freedom Party in Austria, Pim Fortyn in the Netherlands, the National Alliance and Northern League in Italy, and the Vlaams Block in Belgium, despite the many differences in character between them.

The CWI has a long and proud record in fighting all forms of racial, religious, ethnic, sex or gender discrimination. During Easter, the CWI in Australia, the Socialist Party, played a key role in the protests at the Woomera detention centre for asylum seekers, helping to highlight their plight to a global audience. Our comrades in Sri Lanka, the United Socialist Party, have been able to unite Tamils and Sinhalese. Likewise, the CWI in India has stood against the rising tide of communal violence that has cost many hundreds of lives this year alone. In Nigeria, the CWI comrades organised in the Democratic Socialist Movement have opposed ethnic, religious and tribal divisions.

No to wars and militarisation!

Since S11, and the war in Afghanistan, it has become clear to everyone that we now all live in a much more dangerous world. Capitalism means exploitation and violence, and conflicts and wars. Huge amounts of money are spent by governments on arms every year; Bush alone proposes to increase the Pentagon budget by over $40 billion. For large parts of the globe violent conflict has long been a feature of existence. In the last century, 200 million people perished in wars that were essentially about profits, markets and the interests of big powers. Three million people died in conflicts in Africa alone during the 1990s. In the same decade, 50 million people were forced to flee their homes as refugees.

The super-rogue state, the US, fresh from quick victory over the Taleban in Afghanistan, wants to wage a new war against the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. This has nothing to do with helping the oppressed people of Iraq, who suffer regular bombing sorties carried out by the US and Britain military, and barbarous Western sanctions costing the lives of hundreds of thousands. It is everything to do with the US administration’s strategic, economic and military goals in the region, including securing oil resources. The superpower also wants to show the masses in the neo-colonial world that it is the boss. For the same selfish reasons US imperialism has launched its "war against terror" in countries like the Philippines and stepped up its military actions in Colombia.

The CWI opposes Bush’s plans to attack Iraq, and calls for imperialism to be kicked out of the region. At the same time, we completely oppose the regime of Saddam, which must be one of the most brutal in the world. The US administration will not bring full democratic rights to Iraq or transform people’s terrible living standards. They want to replace Saddam, an ex-friendly dictator, with a pliant repressive regime. We need only to look at post-Taleban Afghanistan to see how imperialism will cut deals with any local reactionary cutthroats, as long as they accept US dominance.

It is up to the people of Iraq to liberate themselves from Saddam’s tyranny. As part of their struggle to oppose imperialism and to remove the bloody Saddam regime, the Iraqi working class needs to build its own independent organisations, and to fight for a socialist society, linking up with the Arab masses throughout the entire region. Indeed, the misery of the Iraqi people, and the ongoing oppression of the Palestinians, has radicalised big parts of the Arab masses, who are demonstrating in millions to show solidarity.

Sharon’s bloody war

Sharon’s bloody invasion of the Palestinian areas, causing the deaths of many civilians in Jenin and other refugee camps, has outraged working people everywhere. While workers and youth stand in solidarity with the long suffering Palestinians, the world’s most powerful governments, taking their lead from the US, Israel’s key ally, make only the mildest criticisms of the mass murderer Sharon.

Since the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords the situation facing Palestinians has actually got much worse. The Palestinian Authority was created as a corrupt, repressive and impoverished entity, surrounded by Israel and reliant on imperialism. The building of settlements on Palestinian areas has continued apace. Palestinian anger finally exploded with the second Intifada in late 2000.

The CWI supports the Palestinians’ fight for national, democratic and social rights. We call for the formation of democratic committees in the Palestinian areas to direct and lead a mass struggle. Palestinians have the right of course to defend themselves, including with arms, against Israeli state terror and brutality. However the spate of suicide bombings, which in the main kill civilians, are counter-productive to the goals of the Palestinian struggle. They only succeed in driving more Israeli Jews into the arms of reactionaries like Sharon.

The Israeli ruling class, imperialism, and indeed the rotten Arab regimes (which are quaking under the pressure of radical pro-Palestinian movements), all oppose a genuine, fully independent Palestinian state. They fear it would act as a radical rallying point for the poor throughout the region. Capitalism cannot deliver Palestinian rights.

The CWI supports the right of self-determination for Palestinians. We stand for an independent socialist Palestinian state, alongside a socialist Israel, as part of a voluntary and equal socialist federation in the region.

In recent weeks there have been important joint protests by Israeli Jews and Palestinians against Sharon’s war, which have included members of ‘Socialist Struggle’, the CWI section in Israel. Also, in the last few years, Israeli workers have come into conflict with the bosses and the reactionary nationalist ruling elite, as they begin moving towards building their own independent political organisations. This points towards the only way to achieve lasting peace in the region – a common struggle by all workers and the oppressed against Sharon, the Arab elites, and imperialism and capitalism.

The viability of a workers’ alternative to the failed ‘solutions’ of right wing, pro-capitalist politicians was brilliantly illustrated in Northern Ireland during a magnificent half-day general strike in February. Sectarian divisions between Catholics and Protestants have actually widened during the ‘peace process’. Following the sectarian killing of a postal worker the trade union leaders were forced from below to call for general strike action. Members of the Socialist Party (CWI section in Ireland), played an important role in organising a number of the protests across the North, and called for a continuing anti-sectarian campaign in workplaces, communities and colleges, and for the creation of a mass socialist alternative to the sectarian, pro-market politicians.

The anti-capitalist movement more determined

Not a few capitalist politicians and commentators boasted that S11 and its aftermath would see the end of the anti-capitalist and anti-globalisation movement. They have also tried their damnedest to demonise the anti-capitalist movement, and also socialists and trade union activists, by outrageously associating them with the aims and methods and aims of the reactionary, right wing, bin Ladin, his Al Qa’eda terror network, and the Taleban regime.

Bin Laden and the Taleban, who were originally ‘anti-communist’, CIA-sponsored Cold War creatures, completely oppose the workers’ movement. When in power the Taleban carried out some of the worst oppression of women and other minorities imaginable.

It is the policies of imperialism in the Arab world and Middle East that have created the conditions for the growth of right wing Islamic ideas and their terror attacks. The US secretary of state, Colin Powel admitted as much when he recently stated, "Terrorism really flourishes in areas of poverty, despair and hopelessness, where people see no future".

It is true that the indiscriminate attacks on the World Trade Centre initially caused widespread confusion and setback the workers’ and anti-capitalist movement. But very quickly anti-capitalist youth joined forces with anti-war protesters in opposing Bush’s war in Afghanistan, a war that led to the deaths of even more innocents than the S11 terror attacks.

If anything, the anti-capitalist movement has raised itself to a more serious and determined level since S11. Tens of thousands demonstrated recently in Washington against the oppression of Palestinians. Well over 500,000 protested in Barcelona in March against the EU and capitalism. The anti-G8 summit protests in Italy last June were dominated by huge trade union contingents and Left parties. The shooting of a protester by the riot police at this event, and similar repression in Gothenburg last year, has failed to stop people taking to the streets. Furthermore, the massive attendance at the Port Alegro Social Forums earlier this year indicates a real searching for a viable alternative to capitalism.

There is a general questioning of imperialist policy by workers, youth and the middle classes internationally. Even in the US, where Bush is temporarily riding high in polls, more and more people are deeply troubled about the administration’s reckless foreign policy and the situation in the Middle East. America is no longer ‘sealed off’ from the world, and increasingly more workers will come into opposition to Bush’s overseas and domestic policies.

The CWI calls for open discussion and debate in the anti-capitalist movement on the way forward. We do not believe that is possible to reform away the profit system, as some high profile anti-globalisation figures argue. Socialists will always fight for every progressive reform of course but the only way to end the misery of capitalism is to struggle for a fundamental change of society – for a socialist world. The only force in society that can overthrow capitalism and create a democratic socialist world is the working class, in alliance with the radical youth and middle classes. The methods of struggle of the working class, for example the strike and general strike, are the most powerful weapons on the globe. The recent general strike in Italy – 13 million strong – against the right wing Berlusconi government, stopped society for a day and showed with which class power really lies.

‘Third World’ misery worsens

The situation facing the peoples of the ‘Third World’ brings home the fact that capitalism cannot deliver the most basic needs for the majority of humanity.

The looting of poor nations’ economies and resources by big corporations has been a complete disaster for billions of people. 1.2 billion people are without access to safe drinking water, and the 2.5 billion are without access to modern energy supplies. The number of people who suffer inadequate sanitation is expected to rocket from 2.4 billion today to 5 billion in 23 years.

At the recent Financing for Development Conference in Monterrey, Mexico, Bush and other world leaders made pious promises to "eradicate poverty". But the US only gives a paltry 0.1% of GDP towards ‘foreign aid’ and most of this goes to prop up client states such as Egypt or is "tied" aid, so that the poor are forced to buy American goods. The other major capitalist powers are little better – Britain gives 0.31%, and Italy, France, Germany and Japan have cut aid.

US imperialism blocked attempts at Monterrey to raise aid from ‘rich countries’ from the present average of 0.22% to 0.7%. Oxfam, the aid agency, estimates that due to current trends of miserly foreign aid, by 2015 over 10 million children a year will die needlessly before their fifth birthday. Yet Bush can find over $40 billion extra for the Pentagon budget to help prosecute his wars for markets and influence.

It is not the lack of aid, however, that is the primarily reason for the intolerable conditions in the Third World but the legacy of colonialism and imperialist dominance. Unfair terms of trade, according to the World Bank, are estimated to rob ‘developing countries’ of around $376 billion a year. This state of affairs leaves around half the world’s population subsisting on $2 or less a day. Poor countries debts to the IMF, World Bank, and other western capitalist lending agencies totalled an incredible $2.5 trillion in 1999.

Compounding this are the devastating consequences of trade wars and competitive protectionism (e.g. the US steel and textile tariffs) on the poorer nations, as the major capitalist economies fight for a share of the shrinking world market.

The deteriorating economic and social situation facing the working class and rural poor of the neo-colonial world, combined with the corruption and oppression of the ruling elites, has resulted in huge opposition movements and popular revolts. In the last few years, mass movements have convulsed Indonesia in Asia, and Ecuador and Bolivia in Latin America.

Unfortunately, in the absence of a mass socialist alternative, all sorts of reactionary ideas and formations can also grow. Ethnic, religious, national and tribal clashes afflict Nigeria. Communalism has engulfed parts of India. But united struggles of workers, the poor and oppressed can begin to cut across these poisons and show the way forward. A ten million strong general strike shook India a few weeks ago, and a two-day general strike against fuel price increases illustrated the power of the masses in Nigeria in January.

Mass revolts in Argentina

At the end of 2001 and beginning of 2002, magnificent mass struggles erupted in Argentina – the second major economy in Latin America and a relatively advanced capitalist society.

Eight general strikes in eighteen months overthrew a succession of governments. Economic slump and political paralysis at the top has continued. The capitalist class have no solution to the deep problems caused by their system.

Not so long ago it all seemed so very different. The country was held up by supporters of capitalism as a ‘model’ state for Latin America. The national currency, the peso, was pegged to the dollar, and governments carried out neo-liberal policies, including privatisations and cuts in spending. This left many millions worse off. Furthermore, the dollar pegging restricted the room for manoeuvre by the ruling politicians and actually made an economic downturn much worse. Not only workers but also many middle class families lost jobs and a lifetime’s savings and were ruined. The middle classes are commonly referred to as, "Those who once had". Half of the population are now living on $2 a day or less. The dramatic decline in living standards is a dire warning to the working people all other Latin American countries and indeed to the ‘rich’ countries in the West.

The masses have a deep hatred for the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. At the same time, the explosion of anger against neo-liberal policies has not been channelled into a struggle to overthrow capitalism and the taking of power by a workers’ government. Local committees of workers, youth, the poor and unemployed have been thrown up during the turmoil, and are a step towards the independent organisation of the working class and exploited. But the absence of a revolutionary socialist party with mass support and influence amongst the working class is holding back the movement. In part, this is due to the legacy of the collapse of the Stalinist regimes from 1989-91. The outlook of Argentinean workers is also influenced by the past experiences of Peronism (a populist, nationalist movement), including its leaders’ corruption.

Over time, new upheavals and struggles will prepare the way for a broad socialist outlook to emerge. This means the crisis will unfold in a protracted manner. However, the new economic shocks, and the willingness of workers to take matters into their own hands, are speeding up the creation of a new mass socialist force.

Failed coup in Venezuela – a blow for reaction

The return of Hugo Chavez to power after a failed right wing coup in April is a big blow to the ruling class of Venezuela and its main backer, US imperialism. It was the masses that restored Chavez to office, after they mobilised against the ultra-right plotters.

Chavez is hugely popular with the working class and poor because he is seen standing up to imperialism and neo-liberal policies. He represents a new breed of left-populist figures and movements in Latin America. Undoubtedly Chavez genuinely wants to dramatically improve the lives of the poor. But this can only be achieved by the overthrow of capitalism and the expulsion of imperialism. Chavez has so far only tried to make changes within the confines of capitalism.

The threat from the right of the military and the ruling class is still very real. They are licking their wounds at present and plotting further economic sabotage and coups. Chavez would be fatally mistaken if he believes he can survive in power by balancing between the masses and the Old Order. This would satisfy neither workers needs nor the ruling class, and ultimately would lead to his downfall. As the tragic experience of Allende in Chile 1973 shows, the capitalists will carry out the most bloody actions in order to safeguard their profits and interests.

To push home the advantage of the defeated coup, it is necessary to take measures to bring the economy under democratic workers’ control. Venezuela, a major oil producer, is potentially very rich.

The workers and poor of Venezuela need to urgently organise themselves, through local committees in the urban and rural areas, and by establishing their own party.

The rank and file of the army can be won to a bold socialist programme that offers a transformation of living standards. An appeal for the masses of Latin America to follow this path would cut across US imperialism’s plans for bloody intervention.

World economic downturn

Workers in the US, Europe, most of Asia, and Latin America have felt the harsh consequences of economic downturn, in the first simultaneous worldwide slump since the end of the Second World War. In the US alone, over 1.4 million workers have been laid off since last March, and manufacturing continues to decline. Officially, there are 15 million unemployed in the EU and over 800 million unemployed or underemployed in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

The introduction of the Euro currency in a majority of EU member states, never minding the politicians’ fanfare, cannot insulate the region from recession. Growths rates in Germany, the powerhouse of Europe, were just 0.6% last year, and are expected to be just as sluggish in 2002, if not worse. France suffered an absolute fall in growth in the last quarter of 2001, for the first time in five years. If anything, the Euro will exacerbate the situation, as nation-states using the new currency are severely restricted in what measures they would traditionally take to escape recession.

Despite the downturn, many US politicians and economists are attempting to talk up a recovery. Seizing on the marginal ‘upturn’ at the beginning of this year in the US economy, they predict a swift, general return to boom. However the recessionary trends continue to dominate: corporate profits are still plummeting, and investment has slowed. Moreover, both households and businesses are weighed down with huge debts.

Bush hopes to spend his way out of recession through his proposed federal budget and a new weapons programme. However, the increased federal deficit will be a lacklustre version of Reagan’s 1980s arms-driven budgets. The weapons programme will certainly boost profits for arms manufacturers, but at the same time big spending cuts are undermining consumer spending.

It is impossible to foretell with accuracy the direction of the economy, or timescale of processes. Nevertheless, the continuing fall in profits and investment appears to rule out a generalised, sustained upturn in the short term. The capitalist commentators fear any number of possible ‘shocks’ to the weakened economy, such as another Enron fiasco (exposure of fraudulent accounting practices by giant corporations). The possible meltdown of the Japanese economy, which has been stagnant for a decade and is saddled with enormous debts, raises the prospect of a world financial crash, plunging the world economy into deeper slump.

Even if there is an "early recovery" it is likely to be slow and partial, and accompanied by rising unemployment – little joy for workers!

During the 1990s, the capitalist politicians, emboldened by the collapse of the ex-Soviet Union, clawed back many reforms they had been forced to give to the working class during the post war upswing. Furthermore, by removing many of the controls on the market economy, the capitalists were able to hugely intensify the exploitation of workers everywhere, and in the process make themselves very much richer.

One of the results of these attacks was the growth of obscene inequalities, not just in the poorer countries but in the richer ones as well. Nearly one in three children live in poverty in Britain, the fourth richest economy in the world.

Workers fight back

Working people are not just accepting the job losses, pay restraints, privatisations and poor services – they fighting back! Last August, COSATU in South Africa called out millions of workers in a general strike. A series of strikes and threatened strikes in Britain this year, by rail workers and postal workers, for example, has shaken Blair’s government. The vast majority of people in Britain are opposed to further privatisations and want to see key utilities brought back into public hands. German metal workers are on the verge of taking strike action over pay. Forty thousand public sector workers have been on strike for weeks this year in Ontario, Canada. Millions of Italian workers have marched and taken strike action against plans by Berlusconi to do away with labour laws that protect workplace rights. This titanic struggle could well end up with the billionaire prime minister crashing from power the second time in just ten years.

However for the interests of workers to be genuinely represented it is necessary to have a fighting leadership at the head of the unions. Many of the union tops are closely linked to the social democrats and their neo-liberal policies, and are mainly concerned with their own well-paid careers. The CWI calls for all union officials to be elected and subject to recall. They should receive no more than the average wage of their union members. The unions need to organise a combined fight-back against all the bosses’ attacks, as well as government cutbacks and privatisations.

Needed: A party for the working class

Workers and youth also need their own political voice. The CWI supports and works for the establishment of new mass workers’ parties. At the same time, we are building the forces of revolutionary socialism on an international scale. The development of a tested and experienced socialist leadership at the head of mass workers’ organisations is indispensable for the successful overthrow of capitalism and the introduction of socialism.

Some anti-capitalist youth question the need for a party structure. But without a party to unite us, and to work out common tactics and programme, how can we change society? Of course we do not want to see a return of the old top-down, undemocratic parties. Only inclusive, broad, democratic and fighting mass parties can win the allegiance of the new generation.

The CWI has raised the flag of genuine socialism in elections in many countries, including Australia, Sri Lanka, Belgium, and Germany. CWI members have recently been elected to city councils in the Ukraine, where, as in other ex-Stalinist states, we campaign for a socialist alternative to the ruling gangster-capitalist elite.

Currently, we are standing candidates for elections in England and Wales, where the Socialist Party already has several councillors. In Southern Ireland, the Socialist Party member of parliament, Joe Higgins, is fighting for re-election in Dublin West. Councillor Clare Daly is fighting for a second SP seat in the Dublin North constituency.

The CWI is also prepared to work with others to maximise the left vote. Dutch members of the CWI have been elected to local councils as members of the Socialist Party (a broad, left party).

Initial steps have been taken towards the creation of new workers’ parties in some countries. In Victoria, Australia, a number of left trade union leaders, disgusted with the right wing policies of the Australian Labor Party, have called for a new workers’ party. It remains to be seen how far they are prepared to go with this idea at the moment, but nevertheless even this call is an important indication of what is possible.

The creation of new mass parties is dependant on a number of factors, including big events and the role of socialists. Already, the present world political and economic shocks are preparing the ground for big changes in understanding and outlook. This will lead millions of workers and youth to the conclusion that they need a party and a mighty socialist international to represent their interests

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May 2002