2009 CWI May Day Statement: World Capitalism In Crisis

We will not pay for the failure of the profit system!

Get organized – Resist! For fighting unions and mass workers’ parties!

For international solidarity and socialism!

The Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) sends warm May Day greetings to workers, youth and the oppressed everywhere. Socialists, trade unionists and other activists celebrate May Day against the background of the worst crisis of capitalism since the 1930s. Following the near meltdown of the financial markets, the economic tsunami is now hitting the ‘real economy’. The global economy is expected to decline by at least 1.3% in 2009. The biggest economies are shrinking dramatically, with Britain’s to fall by over 4% this year and Japan’s by over 6%. In the US, unemployment and house repossessions continue to climb steadily. Germany faces a huge 100bn euros loss in 2009, as its economy shrinks by 6%.

No part of the world can escape the deluge. Twenty years after the collapse of Stalinism and the illusions engendered in capitalism, the market economy has failed spectacularly in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, cruelly throwing millions into poverty overnight.

In Asia, Africa and Latin America already barbarous ‘living’ conditions are made even worse, as the effects of the world economic recession hits the poorest parts of the globe. Even before the onset of the recession, at least 80% of humanity lived on less than $10 a day and 25,000 children die due to poverty, every day. Just look at the situation in ‘oil-rich’ Nigeria, which has the largest population on the African continent. The UN reported that in 1996 the poverty rate in Nigeria was 46%, but that by February 2009 it had sky-rocketed to 76 %. The Nigerian government’s Bureau of Statistics states that 40 million Nigerians are unemployed, which is a 65% unemployment rate among employable Nigerians.

These sorts of grotesque figures will increase as the already meagre ‘aid’ from the West is squeezed further by the economic downturn and as the bosses try to offload the crisis of their system onto the poorest people. The IMF is busy enforcing ‘austerity packages’ – meaning huge social spending cuts – from Iceland and the Baltic states to Pakistan and sub-Saharan Africa. The profit-led system means endemic poverty, joblessness, environmental destruction, wars, and the spread of preventable diseases. Even big sections of the middle classes face sackings and plummeting living standards.

The working class and poor of the world are being made to pay for the catastrophic breakdown of the capitalist system. Huge government bail-outs have “socialized the costs” while “privatizing the profits”. Many millions of workers face severe social welfare cuts, mass unemployment, lower wages, higher taxes and house repossessions. Young people, particularly school leavers, are amongst the hardest by the crisis, with youth unemployment already standing at nearly 24% in Australia.

The global crisis has led to a sharpening of tensions between powers, at world and regional level, and a ferocious struggle over profits and influence. This can provoke more regional conflicts, as we saw last year in the short but bloody war between Georgia and Russia. Just as the situation in Iraq is becoming more violent and unstable ahead of a US “pull-out”, Western imperialism is bogged down in the unwinnable war in Afghanistan, which is spilling over into Pakistan and threatening eventual all-out civil war and even the country’s bloody break-up.

More than ever, socialists, trade unionists, anti-capitalists, students, environmental activists, anti-war campaigners and others need to unite and resist the bosses’ attacks and imperialism, and to struggle for a better world.

Socialist policies needed for the workers’ movement

The CWI calls for the workers’ movement everywhere to urgently fight for decisive measures to guarantee jobs, a living wage, decent homes and for free education and health. The CWI fights for the immediate needs of working people and the poor along with arguing for the building of socialist movements that can transform society. Pro-capitalist governments carry out ‘nationalisations’ of banks and other industries at the cost of working people, with the intention that the same institutions can be later privatized. We call for socialist nationalizations, which would see big banks and the key industries brought under the democratic control and management of working people, for the benefit of the majority in society.

The crisis of capitalism is shaking up the consciousness of the masses everywhere. Many workers and youth were initially be stunned by the speed and savagery of the crisis. Many others will have no choice but to resist the onslaught against their jobs and living conditions. And as the crisis prolongs, many more sections of working class will reach the conclusion they must fight to defend their basic living standards. The struggle to defend democratic rights also takes on new importance everywhere. The capitalist state, often under the guise of “anti-terrorism legislation”, uses repressive measures against an array of protesters, from anti-capitalists and environmental activists, and increasingly against the organized workers’ movement.

The masses will seek an alternative to the parties of crisis capitalism, including in the US, where big illusions, or desperate hopes, currently exist in Obama personally. But Obama’s policies are dictated by the interests of the big corporations and US imperialism. The huge stimulus package has not turned around the US economy, bail-outs for the rich are highly unpopular, unemployment and house repossessions climb steadily and more US troops are sent to die in the war in Afghanistan.

As working people get organized and fight-back, they will search for a way out of the crisis; for alternative ideas. The politicians are desperately trying to solely lay blame for the crisis on the heads of big banks and financial institutions and talk about ‘regulation’ to prevent more crises. But the heart of the problem lies in the very nature of the capitalist system. The world economic crisis vindicates the ideas of Karl Marx – that capitalism is an irrational, chaotic and hugely wasteful system, of booms and slumps, with devastating consequences for working people. We face not just one but many crises. A default on their debts by two or three East European or Latin American states, for example, could trigger the next big shocks, with global repercussions.

“The day has passed for patching up the capitalist system; it must go”, wrote the great Irish Marxist James Connolly, nearly 100 years ago, and his words are more relevant than ever. The only way to permanently overcome the crisis facing humankind is by abolishing capitalism and landlordism. The task of the socialist transformation of society is to bring the big monopolies, the banks and the financial institutions into public ownership and to work out a democratic plan for the production and redistribution of wealth on a national and international scale. A planned economy, run and controlled democratically by working people, will make it possible to develop the productive forces in harmony with the environment. Only a socialist organisation of production and distribution can assure humanity a decent standard of life and end oppression and exploitation.

Strikes and factory occupations

Working people are starting to fight-back. In late 2008 and in the first part of 2009, magnificent mass demonstrations and general strikes against attacks on working and living conditions took place in Ireland, Greece, France, Italy and Portugal, and other parts of Western and Southern Europe. Mass street protests erupted against corrupt, pro-market regimes in the Baltic States and strikes are on the rise in Russia. As well as this, factory occupations occurred in the US, Ireland, Britain and the Ukraine. Huge pressure is growing in the workplaces for industrial action, from Austria to Nigeria. ‘Boss-napping’ is breaking out all across France, as well as widespread defensive workers’ struggles, including at the Toyota car plant. School and higher education students and youth are also taking action, including in Spain and France, where some colleges and universities shut down for months. Youth are clearly showing they are willing to resist efforts to off-load capitalism’s economic disaster onto the heads of their generation.

All these struggles are just a taste of what is to come. To be successful, however, mass struggles need conscious class direction and leadership. In many cases, the bureaucratic, right wing union leaders only want to divert and dissipate workers’ anger. The transformation of unions into fighting, democratic organizations is a vital goal for the working class. In many parts of the world, a first step is the creation of genuinely independent organizations of the working class, including unions.

In recent years, new organizations of the Left started to develop as the former workers’ parties transformed into purely capitalist entities. The NPA (‘anti-capitalist party’) was formally founded in France, earlier this year, and has won credible poll ratings, despite the limits of its programme. Unfortunately many of the new formations have failed to seriously champion struggles of the poor and working class or put forward clear socialist policies. A result has been that they have not taken off or have gained some electoral successes only to later fall in the polls. The leadership of the Left Party in Germany turned to the right just at a time when real socialist ideas can gain much wider popularity. The broad left alliance, SYRIZA, in Greece, has fallen in the polls as a right wing section of its leadership makes clear it wants to enter a coalition with the right wing social democratic PASOK.

Despite the setbacks concerning some of the new left formations, new broad parties of the working class will inevitably arise, at some stage, due to the deep capitalist crisis and workers’ mass struggles. The ‘No to EU – Yes to Democracy’ EU electoral alliance in Britain, which was initiated by the militant transport workers union, the RMT, and which involves the Socialist Party (CWI England and Wales), is an important step forward.

For new left formations and parties to succeed, they must adopt fighting socialist policies and be open and democratic organizations.

Danger of racism and reactionary populism

The dramatic failure of the market economy means there will be huge opportunities to build mighty class organizations and to massively increase support for the ideas of socialism and Marxism. However, due to the lack of a strong left alternative, the political vacuum can be partially filled by other ideas and forces.

Sections of the most alienated and frustrated youth can increasingly turn to rioting, as we saw during the movement of Greek youth at the end of 2008. Small sections of youth can even look towards individual terrorism to ‘hit back’ against the system and oppressive state. But these false methods are a deadly cul-de-sac for youth and counter-productive to the interests of the working class. Only the organized working class, armed with socialist policies, can fundamentally change society.

Racist and reactionary populist ideas and movements can also grow. The anti-immigrant political movement based around Geert Wilders ‘Party of Freedom’ in the Netherlands, is leading in the polls for June’s EU elections, ahead of governing parties and official opposition. The far right BNP could pick up seats in Britain in the same elections. This reflects deep hatred of the main pro-market parties by a disillusioned section of the population. The workers’ movement must actively counter the far right threat and campaign against all forms of discrimination and racism; for workers’ unity against the real enemy – the bosses and their profit system. This must be linked to a united campaign for jobs for all, a living wage, decent and affordable housing and fully funded public services.

On this May Day, the CWI sends solidarity greetings to all those resisting oppression, discrimination and injustice. We salute the United Socialist Party (CWI Sri Lanka), which opposes the slaughter of many innocents as the Sri Lankan army closes in on the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) with bloody consequences. The USP courageously calls for Sinhalese and Tamil workers’ unity in the teeth of vicious chauvinism. We also salute the courageous CWI comrades in Pakistan, who have helped build important unions in a country under the domination of corrupt, reactionary elites and meddling imperialism, and which is wracked by reactionary political Islamist terrorism. In the teeth of right wing nationalism, the CWI in Israel campaigned against the Israeli army’s slaughter in Gaza at the start of 2009.

May Day is also an occasion to remember and to learn from past workers’ struggles. This year, we commemorate the 90th anniversary of the deaths of the immortal leaders of the German revolution, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, murdered with the connivance of right wing social democratic leaders. If the German revolution had succeeded, ushering in a socialist transformation of one of the major advanced capitalist countries, it would have broken the isolation of the young Soviet Union, the first workers’ state, and acted as a huge spur to world socialist revolution.

The German revolution showed the power and role of the working class, but also the need for a clear programme, strategy and leadership, if capitalism is to be overthrown. Similarly, the 30th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution shows the huge potential the working class had to transform society on socialist lines but a lack of a clear sighted leadership saw the revolution cruelly diverted and strangled by the rule of the reactionary Mullahs. Today huge discontent is building under the surface of Iranian society, presaging future revolutionary movements. Elsewhere in the Middle East, working people and youth are taking more independent class action, as indicated by the surge in strikes and workers’ protests in Egypt over the last few months and by recent strikes in Lebanon. This points the way forward for the masses of the Middle East – united, independent class action to overthrow the despotic Arab regimes, to expel imperialism and to bring about genuine self-determination for Palestinians and other oppressed peoples.

Socialism back on the agenda

The worldwide crisis of capitalism will put the issue of socialism back on the agenda. In Latin America a number of radical populist or left-leaning leaders have been elected to power. While some welcome reforms have been gained by the working masses and the poor in countries like Bolivia and Venezuela, fundamental social change will not come simply through individual leaders but from mass action from below. To successfully overthrow capitalism and landlordism, and establish genuine workers’ and peasants’ democracy, mass parties of the working class, armed with bold socialist policies, are needed.

Compared to the Bush years, Obama’s administration is taking a more sophisticated approach to Latin America and making even making overtures to Cuba. But the overriding aim of US imperialism is to stop the spread of radical, socialist ideas throughout the continent, to safely see off or to defeat the movements in Venezuela, Bolivia and elsewhere, and to restore capitalism in Cuba. The only way to safeguard and to extend the social gains of the Cuban revolution, whose 50th anniversary we also mark this year, is by opposing all attempts at capitalist restoration, introducing workers’ democracy and the democratic control and management of the economy by the working class, and by calling for the support of the international working class.

The world crisis of capitalism and the resulting deep sense of volatility and uncertainty have already led to a big increase in young people and workers turning to the works of Marx and Engels. As the crisis deepens and prolongs, and as working people look for an alternative to the bankrupt system and its bankrupt ideology, genuine socialism and Marxism will find a greater response. More sections of the poor and oppressed will conclude that that capitalism is a rotten, barbarous system that must be overthrown and that the global profit system must be resisted by the international solidarity and collaboration of the working class and oppressed. From Marx and Engels, youth will look to the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky and other great Marxist thinkers and leaders. Over the next period of tumultuous events, these ideas can become the property of the masses, in country after country. Capitalism, on a global scale, can at last be replaced with a genuine socialist society, where the world’s enormous wealth and resources are used for the benefit of humanity.

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April 2009