World: Middle East, Ukraine wars…upturn in European class struggle

CWI meeting discusses a volatile period in global and class relations

The recent meeting of the International Executive Committee (IEC) of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) came at the end of a turbulent year in world relations with the wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, increased tensions in East Asia and tremors regularly shaking the world economy.

On the other hand, 2014 has seen protests in Brazil and Spain and, more recently, in Hong Kong and the beginning of an upturn in class struggle in Europe, including the anti-water charges movement in Ireland and the referendum campaign in Scotland. Indeed, the meeting took place in Belgium against the backdrop of the developing general strike movement there.

Peter Taaffe of the CWI’s International Secretariat presented the draft statement on World Perspectives to the meeting.

The majority of capitalist economists pronounce only gloom for their system. The capitalists still cannot find a way out for the world economy and have coined a new phrase for this: the ‘Great Frustration’!

Six years after 2008, and despite stimuli of over $6 trillion worldwide, only the US is in ‘recovery’ mode – and even that is more of an illusion than a reality for workers in a ‘joyless’, often jobless, poverty wage ‘recovery’.

This despite the bonus from increased US oil production from shale, which has had a worldwide effect, including on oil prices which have tumbled this year and are now threatening the economies of oil producers.

Mid-term elections

But there is no real stability in the US, reflected in mid-term elections and the explosive protests since the shooting in Ferguson of Michael Brown. The turnout in the mid-term elections was the lowest since 1942. Young people and minorities who voted for Obama this time largely abstained.

Republicans now control both houses of Congress. But this does not represent a swing towards the right in US society; in fact the opposite. For example, Bryan from the US pointed out that Texas voted against fracking, 33 areas voted against ‘Citizens United’ who campaign for unrestricted political donations from corporations and several referenda were won on a minimum wage, including some, ‘conservative’ states.

This anger in society is preparing the way for serious steps towards a mass independent radical/workers’ formation – maybe starting before the presidential elections in 2016.

Peter elaborated on the trade negotiations of the capitalist powers. They are making desperate attempts to push for ‘growth’, symbolised by the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This is an undoubted ‘counter-revolution’ under the signboard of ‘reform’ with separate courts to adjudicate and overrule national governments to implement a brutal neoliberal programme. It is linked with the idea that Europe is about to repeat Japan’s ‘lost decade’ – now over two decades – and that something must be done to overcome it.

TTIP though is a charter for massive privatisation, like the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty. But even if the TTIP is signed, that would not be the end of the matter, the trade union leaders internationally could easily oppose its implementation by mobilising their members and broader layers.

Capitalist economists complain that the world economy is in the ‘repair shop’. It does not need repair but a totally different model! Investment is down and a ‘currency war’ has begun. The rise in the dollar against most other currencies at the same time undermines US exports. Trade figures are below the growth figures, the opposite of the effect during the boom.

Fraud and corruption

The size of fraud and corruption of capitalism is shown by the 12 global banks that have put aside $105 billion for future fines in US and Europe. This against the background of an explosion of inequality; the number of the world’s billionaires doubled between 2009 and 2014. Oxfam revealed that if the world’s richest man, Carlos Slim of Mexico, spends his fortune at $1 million a day, it would take 200 years to run out!

However, sections of the capitalists recognise levels of inequality can deepen the world crisis and perpetuate it. The Bundesbank, for example, has advocated wage increases – though only for German workers! This is given ‘theoretical’ expression by Martin Wolf of the Financial Times, who incessantly calls for “more and more demand”, even if it means piling up the deficits, while others like Larry Elliott (Guardian) have returned to the idea of ‘helicopter money’; just hand out cash straight to potential consumers, rather than quantitative easing from central banks to buy bonds.

There is a real prospect that world capitalism will repeat the crash of 2008 but on an even bigger scale, which will provoke a much greater reaction amongst working people than before. Even if there is no crash and the capitalists continue along their present path, almighty explosions amongst the working class are inevitable.

The problems in the world economy have a direct effect on world relations. Contractions in national income lead to an intensified struggle both between classes and between nations, resulting in growing tensions, the threat of war, and war itself between nations and groups of nations. This has led to a general feeling of extreme uncertainty in the splintered world situation today.

An intense debate is taking place within the US ruling class over its role, particularly in the international arena. The most realistic wing has concluded that the ‘Pax Americana’, with its parallels with ancient Rome, the overwhelming domination of one power, is over. There are open discussions as to whether China will replace the US as the dominant power but a US-China duopoly is more likely.

Intense struggle of imperialist strategists

However, this debate has revealed an intense struggle within the strategists of US imperialism. The recent resignation of Chuck Hagel as Defence Secretary – who wanted a more interventionist position in Syria from the US administration – reflects this.

One wing laid “back in their chairs and gazed wistfully, remembering that it was so much easier in the Cold War” (‘The Future Declassified’).

They have exchanged a black-and-white world for one that is grey. But this bipolar world – the US and its allies on one side, with Russia, China and its allies on the other – has disappeared into history.

The ratcheting up of tensions shown in Ukraine, the bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iraq and Syria, with the rise of Isis all reflect this growing conflict and jockeying for position between the US and Russia as well as China.

Not just Ukraine but also the Baltic States, Georgia, Serbia and the Balkans as a whole are now arenas of growing tensions and conflict. This has compelled even former leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev – up to now a pet of Western capitalism – to warn about a new ‘Cold War’ and the surrounding of Russia by Nato.

The current world situation is much more comparable to that of inter-imperialist rivalries before World War One. The US, as shown in the Middle East with both the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and also the developments around Isis, cannot call all the shots.

Middle East and North Africa

Following the failure of revolution in the Middle East and North Africa, the working class of the region has been pushed back. Dictatorships and semi-dictatorships, with ethnic and religious sectarianism, prevail. The key reason for the failures of these revolutions was lack of leadership.

However, the organisations of the working class are still intact some countries, particularly Tunisia, Egypt. Robert Bechert from the CWI IS, in his reply said that the Middle East is a strategic disaster for imperialism as well as a social disaster for masses and explaining a way out is of enormous importance. The counter-revolution gives the impression of a region in the throes of reaction but Egypt could still be important the current phase of repression does not mean a permanent end of struggle; a crisis still exists, the trade unions which grew after Mubarak’s overthrow still exist and there is a youthful and radical population.

It will take time to discredit Isis in Syria and Iraq, who are using both social measures and extreme repressive measures to consolidate its rule. Isis is a different formation than even Al Qa’ida, with the former’s emphasis on developing a ‘caliphate’ with territory. Many former pro-western fighters in Syria are going over to Isis because of lack of support from the US.

Isis can be attractive to unemployed youth – from Tunisia, for instance, from where 3,000 youth have gone to fight for Isis, the highest number of its recruits from the region. But the methods of Isis will repel the working class and poor. An independent working class is the only force capable of changing the situation in the region.

Peter outlined how the Israel-Palestine conflict has taken an ugly and dangerous turn in Jerusalem, taking on the appearance of religious war. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is massively unpopular worldwide because of the assault on Gaza and its fallout. He has said he no longer believes in the ‘two-state’ solution. Now his government has proposed a new nationality law which emphasises the ‘Jewish’ aspect of state.

During the IEC, two members of the government were sacked for opposing these new measures and a general election called for March.

Another factor in the Middle East, said Peter, is the question of Iran and its nuclear programme. Negotiations have been extended but there are problems on both sides, including in the US where there are now two foreign policies developing: one in the White House and the other in the Republican-controlled Congress.


The rise of China, although still militarily weaker than the US, is rapidly challenging the US in the Pacific and East Asia. But China will explode and the Hong Kong demos are an anticipation of some of the processes that will develop throughout China at a later stage. Jaco and Sally from Hong Kong outlined the processes of the ’Umbrella Revolution’ which centred on democratic demands and whose leaders had no clear strategy.

The Chinese leadership did not directly intervene in the Hong Kong events because they felt safe that this movement would not spread to China itself However, there is no doubt they have worries for the future in China itself.

China now has the largest working class in the world and the country’s leadership fears that once it starts to struggle and independently organise it would pose a threat to their rule.

Siri from Sri Lanka explained that growth in its economy was enjoyed by the ruling clique only. Now President Rajapakse has called a snap re-election campaign, reflecting the fear that if he waits, he could lose. Siri will stand as the United Socialist Party’s candidate in the elections, striving to maintain the traditions of the Sri Lankan left when many other left forces are either supporting Rajapakse or his main opponent Sirisena from the capitalist UNP.

Peter then dealt with developments in South Africa and Nigeria. South Africa’s rapid economic slowdown and the government’s pro-big business policies have led to turmoil within the African National Congress and the Cosatu trade union federation.

NUMSA expelled

The metalworkers’ union NUMSA has been expelled from Cosatu and is also talking of taking steps to form a new mass workers’ party, something that has been Numsa policy for some time.

After the Marikana massacre we helped to create this momentum through the initiative of WASP, which stood in the elections earlier in 2014. The next period will be crucial in South Africa.

Dagga explained that the situation of falling oil prices undermining the Nigerian economy and the refusal of the trade union leaders to call any further action since the massive supported January 2012 general strike created an explosive situation. The question was whether the working class could give a socialist direction to the anger. He also described how the recent overthrow of the president of Burkina Faso has recalled the memory of Thomas Sankara, the radical president murdered in 1987, who, despite his political limitations, had a big effect in Africa.

The worsening environmental conditions in many countries and the threats posed by climate change are vitally important issues that are attracting more and more attention, as shown by last September’s worldwide protests, especially the massive demonstration in New York.

Peter concluded his opening remarks in relation to consciousness and the stage of development of working-class and the poor masses’ organisation and activity.

In Britain, we have posed the question that the masses in a new surge will not immediately go to the trade unions, with their rotten leadership and structures. They will go to all kinds of figures and movements, as shown by the Scottish referendum. It is possible that movements on housing – because of the colossal development of homelessness – could become a focal point.


Even radical comedians, like Beppe Grillo in Italy and Russell Brand in Britain, have become focal points for discontent. We should be open to such developments and see how far we can push them.

This does not mean socialists should abandon the trade unions. But we must be open to the possibility that only later will the masses turn to the unions, fill them out and they will begin to play the role of education in steeling the working class for future struggles.

One thing is clear: every section of the CWI, given our analysis of the incapacity of capitalism, the old social democracy and their shadows within the trade unions, is well poised to put forward our programme to solve the problems of the working class. We will be able to grow and build. What has been achieved in the US will be repeated in every section of the CWI.

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December 2014