The 13th congress of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) took place from 22-25 January 2022. International travel difficulties because of covid restrictions meant that most comrades participated via zoom. Nevertheless, the congress was a great success. Over 80 delegates and visitors participated from across Europe, Asia, Africa and South and North America, discussing perspectives and the tasks ahead for Marxists in a period of capitalist crisis and turmoil.
The Congress is the supreme democratic decision making body of the CWI. During the meeting, a new International Executive Committee was elected and other CWI bodies.
This week, we will publish the three main political documents discussed, debated and amended in the lead up to and during the congress – which consider the world situation, Europe and the neo-colonial countries. Other documents agreed at the congress, including on building the CWI and on trade unions, were also discussed and agreed upon.
This 13th congress of the CWI takes place in a historic period of capitalist crisis and turmoil. Whilst all of the tendencies and trends of the crisis were present prior to 2020, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic acted as a great accelerator and changed everything. Some commentators even describe world events as either ‘BC’ or ‘AC’ – Before COVID and After COVID.
Global capitalism, as we have explained in our analysis, is now confronted with a series of convergent multiple crises. These are economic, social and political, health, inter-state relations, and environmental. Although in some countries there is some respite from the COVID-19 pandemic, globally it continues to shape the economic, social and political situation, as illustrated by the new variant, Omicron, which will be followed by others. The worsening environmental crisis is also now impacting more directly on economic, social and political events.
The working class and the CWI have now entered a new historical era of upheaval and turmoil. It is marked by events unfolding at breakneck speed, in which many uncertainties are present. Whilst there are some clear trends and tendencies currently unfolding in the world situation, there are many aspects present today which are not yet clear and remain uncertain.
However, what is certain is that capitalism will not be able to resolve the underlying systemic crises which it faces. Neither will it be able to ‘reboot’ itself, as some bourgeois commentators have argued. All previous ‘certainties’ have been shattered during this crisis. A new brutal era of polarization with features of revolution and counter-revolution has begun. The unprecedented growth in inequality is resulting in a bitter class divide. A small number of oligarchs plunder the planet at the expense of the poor. 2020 saw the richest 1% steal over $4tn. At the same time, the International Labour Organisation estimates that working hours lost globally has been equivalent to 255 million full-time jobs – a $4tn loss. US corporations have bathed in the luxury of the widest profit margins for 70 years during the second and third quarters of 2021. The US working class saw its real average hourly wage cut by 0.5% during September and October 2021. In this highly polarized world situation, Marxists and the working class face new challenges and demands, which include the rebuilding or building of the workers’ and revolutionary movement against the background of profound ideological confusion and disorientation on the left.
2020 saw a deep economic slump during the height of the pandemic. This affected all countries. This has inevitably been followed by some limited, unstable growth in the main imperialist centres. However, it is an entirely different situation in most of South Asia, Latin America and parts of Africa, where a devastating economic recession or slump continues with horrific social and economic consequences. Even in countries like Nigeria, which has formally recorded a growth in the economy, living standards have plunged. The key question is whether this recovery can be sustained and lead to a revival in the world economy. Some have argued that the application of a ‘Green New Deal’, with massive investment in new ‘green industries’, can lead to a new period of capitalist upswing and a ‘fourth industrial revolution’. This is not the realistic prospect for capitalism in the decade of the 2020s.
Following the global shutdown which took place in 2020, some bounce back was inevitable in the US, EU and China. However, the limited growth which has taken place has been shallow and ephemeral. Although some key economies have formally returned to the situation that existed prior to the pandemic this has been on an extremely tenuous basis.
Despite minor upturns, the global economy has been in a period of crisis since the 2007-08 crash – more than thirteen years. This makes it one of the longest crises in capitalism’s history. This illustrates the era of capitalist decay and disintegration as opposed to an era of boom and upswing. In periods of upswing and boom, economic crises tend to be shallow and short-lived. Booms tend to be lengthy and more solid. During periods of crisis, any growth tends to be shallow and short-lived, and recessions deeper and longer. Capitalism in this era is in the latter phase.
Moreover, there are clear indications that the ‘recovery’ is already stalling or slowing, in particular in the US and China. Economic growth slowed considerably in the third quarter of 2021 in the US. It meant that on an annualized basis the US economy expanded 2% in the three months to the end of September – its weakest quarterly growth since the pandemic slump in 2020.
In China, third-quarter industrial activity grew by only 3.1%, below the anticipated 4.5%. The hoped-for global growth of 6% in 2021 is now anticipated to fall to 3% in 2022 and may fall even further.
In addition, the reopening of the economies in the main imperialist countries has brought with it new problems for capitalism. There is a major disruption to the supply chains in key sectors of the economy, affecting many commodities and products. This is the result of various factors including the effect of COVID and absence of workers in some workplaces, labour shortages, materials being in the wrong location following lockdowns, disruption to transport and lack of availability of some commodities. The shortage of semiconductors has had a crippling effect on sections of the motor industry and other sectors. Germany’s industrial giant, Volkswagen, and California’s Apple have both suffered from this. Volkswagen estimates it has lost €500m in profits and Apple $6bn due to the global shortage of semiconductors, amongst other problems. The disruption to global supply chains and lack of raw materials is one of the key factors causing growth to slow in the economies of the main imperialist countries. Capitalism is confronted by a supply chain crisis, but also sluggish and weaker-than-expected demand in the main imperialist economies. It is also facing a labour shortage in some countries in important sectors of the economy.
Inflation has increased in many countries, bringing with it the threat of stagflation hitting key economies in the coming period. Economist Nouriel Roubini correctly warns that 1970s-style stagflation is now possible, combined with a severe debt crisis. This is already happening in many countries of the neo-colonial world like Argentina, Nigeria and particularly Venezuela, where hyperinflation estimated at more than 10,000% per annum exists. In the EU, Germany has one of the highest rates of inflation at 6%. The rise in food prices, energy costs and other commodities is already having important political and social repercussions. It has also put the capitalists in a quandary about how to deal with it and has opened divisions amongst them. Some argue it is temporary development that the ‘market’ will eventually correct. Others propose that action is taken to contain or stamp on it, by taking measures that threaten to reduce or cut off any economic recovery.
The global debt time bomb
In addition to this, global debt is a ticking time bomb. In the second quarter of 2021, it had almost reached a staggering US$300 trillion. A major debt crisis is pending, which can have major consequences for the world financial system and the global economy. The burden of debt repayments in the neo-colonial world is crippling. A debt default by some of the countries in the neo-colonial world could add to the global financial crisis. Argentina already defaulted on its interest payments in May 2020. A temporary deal was reached but the can have been kicked down the road until 2022 when the crisis will re-erupt.
The debt crisis can even affect some of the most powerful imperialist countries. A mark of the decline of US imperialism is that US debt currently stands at around $28 trillion. A default was threatened in October 2021 as Republicans tried to block Biden’s proposal to raise the debt ceiling. A crisis was averted until December but an agreement was cobbled together kicking the can down the road. However, these questions can erupt again as the underlying issue has not been resolved. Any default in the US would be unprecedented and would have devastating consequences both domestically and internationally.
More likely, however, is the prospect of debt default in the neo-colonial world. Chad, Zambia and Ethiopia have all applied for debt cancellation, which is currently blocked by the private sector banks. At least 35 countries are currently exposed to ‘external debt distress’ according to the World Bank. There are 65 countries indebted to China which are already causing tensions and problems. The global debt crisis is a question that is likely to erupt as a major issue in the world economy and politics.
The capitalists in the industrialised countries introduced a series of unprecedented stimulus packages and state intervention during the 2020 slump. These prevented a total collapse from taking place. They represented a major change in policy, which the bourgeoisie was compelled by the pandemic to undertake. This change represented a turn to Keynesian policies, which had not been applied in this way in the BC era. It would be a mistake to conclude that this means the ruling class abandoned neo-liberal policies including privatisations which in many countries have been carried through alongside increased state intervention. Under the impact of the crisis and social movements, the bourgeoisie will oscillate between the two – neo-liberal measures and more state intervention – or a combination of both depending on what they judge to be necessary at each stage.
The failure of the COP26 summit illustrates the impossibility of dealing with the environmental crisis on a capitalist and national basis. The crisis of water and food production in areas of Asia, Africa and Latin America threatens the outbreak of water and food supply wars. Whilst the elite met in Glasgow, China was facing a series of power supply crises in some provinces. It stepped up coal production to try and deal with it. The US was also urging its allies to increase oil production due to the increase in prices. Now, the key oil producers have released some of their oil reserves, although Russia released less than was expected, and Saudi Arabia has agreed to increase supply. In some of the imperialist countries, some investment in the new ‘green industry’ is already taking place. This can have a certain effect. However, it will not offer a way out for capitalism. It will also lead to new conflicts and struggles over any new markets and industries which do open up. The run-up to COP26 saw the emergence of big protests, especially amongst young people on the environment. These movements, mainly of petty-bourgeois youth, although not exclusively, then subsided but were extremely significant. The deepening ecological crisis means that further movements on this important issue are certain to erupt and in many countries will draw in sections of workers and the poor who are increasingly affected by the effects of the environmental crisis.
Other important social movements have featured in the recent period and will continue to erupt. The explosive movements of women that have taken place in many countries are a reflection of this. The viciously reactionary position of the far-right candidate, Kast, in the recent Chilean elections meant that the issue of women’s rights was an important issue in the campaign. Many of these movements however are also plagued by the divisive ideas of ‘Identity Politics’ that are in opposition to a class analysis and approach to all these important social issues. It is important for Marxists to take up these issues from a class perspective and link them to the need for a socialist alternative.
The decline of US imperialism and the rise of China
The historic change in the world situation is marked by the accelerating decline of US imperialism and the rise of China. This is shaping all aspects of world relations in this period. It signifies the end of a unipolar world led by US imperialism. The new multipolar world is resulting in a series of clashes and conflicts – economic, political, diplomatic and militarily – in crucial flashpoints. The era we are now in will be marked by increasing conflicts, including wars, in many areas. The dramatic increase in global arms expenditure is an indication of what is being prepared for by some powers. The world military arsenals are expected to double in size by 2030 compared to 2016. The global tensions and clashes have some features of the clashes which took place in the run-up to the 1914-18 war.
The dramatic decline of US imperialism is illustrated in its falling percentage of global GDP. In 1960 it was 40%. By 1985 it had fallen to 29.86%. In the twenty-first century, by 2014 it had declined to 20% and by 2020 it was down to 15.9%. China’s share, on the other hand, has risen from 8.73% in 2011 to 18.33% in 2020. (Based on purchasing power parity). China’s ability to obtain this growth and development flows directly from the character of the state, which we have categorized as a hybrid, a peculiar form of state capitalism. Without China having a centralized planned economy in the past, which then transitioned to a special form of capitalist economy with a heavy element of state ownership direction and control, it would not have been able to achieve such a development.
This is important as it is crucial to refute the utopian idea raised by some that India or Brazil could repeat what China has done in recent decades. However, whether this development can continue at the same pace is doubtful due to the prospect of the onset of internal domestic economic and social crises developing. Globally it points to the likelihood that there will not be one clear winner in the struggle between the US and China. The next era will be one of a multipolar world. It will not be centred on one central pole. Two main centres are emerging, with other weaker powers struggling to assert themselves and expand their spheres of influence. None will be stable or fixed. Rapid changes and oscillations will take place during a struggle to gain influence. Such conflicts are already assuming not only an economic but a military character.
The main battleground at this stage is between China and the US in South East Asia. The EU is discussing launching a ‘global gateway’ as an answer to China’s ‘Silk Road’. However, this will not offer a major challenge to China and could become a dead end. The Asian region combined has the largest buying-power capacity in the world economy. US imperialism and other western powers are compelled to try and defend their interests and resist China’s growing influence and expansion. Trade barriers that have been put up against China reflect this clash of interests and attempts to prevent China from strengthening its economic position further. On the other hand, recent developments in the Solomon Islands, although small, are extremely significant. Under pressure from China, the government of the Solomon Islands has withdrawn links with Taiwan, which has provoked rioting and the deployment of a small military force from Australia.
The formation of the AUKUS bloc (Australia, the UK and the US) and the deployment of more naval power to the region reflect these processes. The cancellation of the French contracts for the Australian submarines heightened the tensions on all sides and illustrated the instability which exists. More significantly, Biden has pulled together the ‘QUAD’ (the US, India, Japan and Australia) in an attempt to establish an anti-China alliance. It is also drawing Vietnam into its orbit.
On the other side, in South Asia, China has pulled Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka into its orbit and dramatically extended its sphere of influence. Yet all of these alliances are riddled with instability and contradictions as tensions between China and Pakistan over the Belt and Road programme have recently illustrated.
A major military build-up is taking place in the South China Sea. This could lead to an ‘accidental’ conflict breaking out. However, a conflict could also take place for non-accidental reasons.
Chinese economic growth and expansion have taken place along with a massive increase in its military capacities. This is echoed by the dramatic increase in arms expenditure internationally as various powers prepare to defend or challenge their spheres of influence. The US ruling class is rattled by the acceleration of China’s nuclear capacity. It is now estimated that China’s nuclear arsenal will quadruple to at least 1,000 warheads by 2030. China is building a new nuclear submarine every 15 months and currently has 350 warships whereas the USA has 293. China currently has the largest navy in the world. The nuclear expansion of China and, for example, the recent launching of a hypersonic missile from a glide vehicle in space which can fly over the South Pole, thereby evading US defence missiles, has terrified the US military strategists and set off multiple alarm signals in the US. The US does not understand how the Chinese managed to achieve this technically and points to the likelihood that in some aspects of such developments the Chinese are ahead of the USA. It is an echo of what took place in the former USSR, which in the 1960s in some spheres was ahead of the USA.
Taiwan is now a central element in this conflict. Having faced down the protests in Hong Kong and established a more repressive and authoritarian system, Chinese leader Xi Jinping seems to have his eyes set on Taiwan as a key aspiration for the regime. Xi has strongly reiterated that Taiwan is a red line for them, and will not tolerate any formal declaration of independence or support for it. Xi has made it clear that one of his objectives is to take it back into China. The explosive nature of the period we are in means that it cannot be excluded that the Chinese regime will intervene militarily to occupy Taiwan. Should they attempt this, they probably could do so in a matter of days.
Such an operation could flow from the regime whipping up Chinese nationalism in an attempt to cut across any social or political crisis which develops domestically. Should the Chinese regime go down this path it is uncertain how the US would respond. This is linked to the domestic situation in the USA and also the weakened global position of US imperialism.
Yet the conflict over Taiwan is not only political or geo-political. It also includes an economic element. Taiwan is vital both for western capitalism and China economically. It is the largest producer of semiconductors which are essential in the modern economy. It is responsible for 63% of the global semiconductor market share. 90% of semiconductors applied by US technology companies rely on Taiwanese manufacturing. China is also dependent on Taiwanese semiconductors. Although at this stage China does not fully have the design capabilities that the US has for semi-conductors, this can change.
The recent developments in China have confirmed the analysis of the CWI about the character of the Chinese state as a special form of state capitalism. This special form of state capitalism emerged because of the history of China as a deformed workers’ state with a centralized planned economy. The massive urbanization which has taken place – from 27% in 1992 to 61% by 2020 – has come alongside grotesque inequality. It has come with massive debt and property bubbles. Debt accounts for 270% of GDP. The collapse of Evergrande– the most indebted property developer in the world – illustrated the looming crisis which exists and also the potential for a clash between different wings of the ruling elite in China.
Xi Jinping, fearing that sections of the capitalist class, especially in the tech sectors and property development, are accumulating too much independence and threatening the interests of the currently dominant wing of the party and the state, is taking measures to check them. Stronger state intervention is taking place in the economy coupled with even greater repression. Xi has combined this with more use of ‘socialist’ rhetoric. The sixth plenum of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee announced the false claim that it was applying ‘Marxism for the 21st century’. ‘Xi Jinping thought’ has been introduced into the school curriculum to help “teenagers establish Marxist belief”. In classic Bonapartist fashion, more and more power has been concentrated into Xi Jinping’s hands. He is trying to balance between different sections of the party – including a ‘Maoist’ wing and those who favour stronger elements of ‘liberal capitalism’ and fear going back to the ‘Maoist’ era. Yet these moves can all backfire on the regime in the future.
It cannot be excluded that sections of the capitalist class which are being reined in by the regime could move to present themselves as defenders of ‘democracy’. They could garner the support of a layer suffering repression, like the youth or the LGBTQ community, which the regime is brutally clamping down on. An explosive cocktail is in the making in Chinese society, which could see important social upheavals and movements including from the working class that is potentially the strongest industrial proletariat in the world. These movements can force splits and divisions within the regime which will have a big impact on international events and the class struggle.
Humiliating defeat for US and western powers in Afghanistan
US imperialism and the other western powers involved suffered the humiliating defeat in Afghanistan. 9/11 signified a turning point in the international situation with the military interventions by US imperialism that followed. The defeat in Afghanistan signifies another turning point, illustrating the diminished power of US imperialism. This defeat was in some respects worse than the defeat they suffered in Vietnam. That was a massive blow for US imperialism but it still emerged from that as the decisively dominant imperial power. The defeat in Afghanistan illustrates the rapidly declining strength of US imperialism in a new multipolar world. It also reflected the mood of opposition to ‘endless wars’ amongst big sections of the US population.
The US and western withdrawal from Afghanistan has strengthened China’s hand in the region. It has also strengthened Pakistan’s position. However, the initial rush of enthusiasm expressed by Imran Khan and the Pakistani military at the Taliban’s victory has now been somewhat tempered as the reality of the crisis which is unfolding is becoming clearer. The ethnic and national questions in Afghanistan, along with the humanitarian catastrophe which exists, will be felt in the entire region. With Baluchistan, where a strong nationalist struggle is being waged on Afghanistan’s borders with a Baluch minority in Afghanistan, together with the Pashtuns, the recipe is being prepared for Pakistan to be further destabilized from these events.
The US handling of the withdrawal, as with the AUKUS submarine incident, provoked a sharp increase in divisions within NATO. The splits that emerged show that NATO, like all other western capitalist organisations and alliances, will not function as it did in a previous era of greater stability. Biden boasted that “America is back”. Back to what is the question? It is back to greater divisions and conflict in a much-weakened position. This is shown by the splits within the international institutions of capitalism, like NATO.
Some features of the laws of revolution and counter-revolution are the same. The speed of the collapse of the Ghani regime had some of the features of what happened in Cuba. In the latter, it was part of a revolutionary process. In Afghanistan, it was the counter-revolutionary process. Ghani and Batista had lost credibility and support, and their regimes hung by threads. In both cases, guerrilla organisations were able to seize power due to the lack of an alternative. The difference was that in Cuba the July 26th movement rested on mass support once it was in power. The Taliban do not.
Afghanistan, like some other countries, is facing a near-total economic collapse. It is ruled by the Taliban resting on sections of the Pashtuns, which comprises 44% of the population. Yet they have already encountered significant protests at their attempt to impose barbaric repression, especially against women. Already some divisions have begun to appear within the regime. The prospect of Afghanistan, a failed state, collapsing into civil war and break up cannot be excluded. The consequences of such a development will be felt throughout the region and internationally. The migration crisis that is flowing from these events can be used and give a boost to the far right in some countries. US imperialism is using the issue of economic aid as a bargaining chip to put pressure on the Taliban, which could possibly result in some form of a tenuous agreement being reached.
Regional powers struggle to increase spheres of influence
The decline of US imperialism and the strengthened position of China is part of a wider process of other powers also attempting to strengthen their influence and position. Russia has taken advantage of the decline of US imperialism to strengthen its influence in the Middle East, especially Syria. At the same time it is asserting itself with a massive troop build-up on the Ukrainian border where, according to some reports, it has amassed 100,000 troops for a possible intervention into Ukraine, which cannot be excluded. Turkey has also used this new world situation to try and assert itself internationally and strengthen its sphere of influence.
At the same time, the horrific and cynical use of the migrants on the Belarus-Poland border, and the threat of Lukashenko to cut gas supplies to the west illustrate how this and other conflicts can directly impact on the EU. The EU has shown its total hypocrisy during this migrant crisis. At the same time the threat of a re-eruption of a Balkan war and the possible break-up of Bosnia, with the Serb entity in the state threatening to secede – with Russian backing – illustrates that so-called peace agreements like the Dayton Accord resolved nothing. This crisis can shatter the previous peace agreements and past conflicts could explode in sharper form as unresolved underlying tensions erupt. This is also seen in Ireland with Brexit, which potentially threatens to heighten the sectarian divide illustrating that the Good Friday peace agreement signed in 1998 has not resolved the situation.
These and other developments underline that under capitalism there is no solution to the national question, which is a crucial issue for the working class and world relations. The emergence of the national and ethnic questions has assumed greater importance. How the working class and Marxists approach this issue will be of vital importance in the coming period. Defending the right to self-determination, and at the same time, the unity of the working class and all oppressed people and ethnic groups on a socialist basis opens the only road to resolve these issues in the interests of all oppressed peoples.
The Putin regime has assumed a more and more Bonapartist repressive character. It will use its international interventions to whip up Russian nationalism and portray itself as fighting the west. The regime in Russia has seen its support increasingly eroded as a result of the worsening economic and social situation. A massive repressive apparatus has been built up; 33% of the Russian governments’ budget is spent on security and defence. The Russian police and security services have swollen, with 10% more staff than in 2014; police and security forces are now bigger than active Russian military forces. Yet even this will not be enough to prevent the eruption of big movements as the economic and social situation worsens. A decisive factor is if the masses lose their fear of confronting the state’s repressive forces. As events in Myanmar, Sudan, Chile and elsewhere have shown, once this happens even the most brutal state machine can be challenged.
The EU has seen significant divisions deepen during the COVID crisis and also in response to the US-Chinese rivalries. A three-way divide exists within it: between countries in the north, south and east. The prospect of further divisions and crises are likely. A major crisis due to national antagonisms is ever-present as that possibility is built into the euros currency’s structure amongst other factors. Following the Brexit crisis, it cannot be excluded that other countries such as Poland could follow suit, triggering a deeper crisis in the EU and its reconfiguration as other countries leave. The likelihood of this development will increase in the event of another economic or financial crash taking place.
US decline has dramatic consequences in the Middle East
The decline of US imperialism is having dramatic consequences in the killing fields of the Middle East. As US influence has diminished, other powers such as Russia and, to an extent, China have increased theirs. At the same time, a reconfiguration of alliances and relations within the region has begun amongst the ruling elites. However, how this will develop is extremely uncertain. At the same time, for the masses life continues as horror without end.
Syria has been partly bombed back to the Stone Age with half its population displaced. Assad has maintained his dynasty in power but with an economy driven into the ground and a weakened position in the region. This has been repeated in countries affected by the failure of the Arab Spring to advance, overthrow the regimes and establish governments of the workers and the poor. It has allowed a series of criminal repressive regimes to come to power. The farce of the elections in Libya has seen a gang of warlords including Gadhafi’s son, contesting ‘elections’. Assad was assisted in clinging to power with the support of Putin, which has strengthened its position in the Middle East as US imperialism has dramatically weakened. Significantly, the UAE and Jordan have reopened channels with Assad after a rupture lasting decades. Iraq has hosted talks between arch-rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia. The UAE has also ‘normalised’ relations with Israel. However, tensions still remain in all of these developments, which will not lead to a stable situation in the region.
As the US has partly withdrawn from the region, Russia, China and the local elites have stepped in to try and increase their spheres of influence and gain an advantage. How this develops in the coming period is uncertain. Temporary agreements and alliances can be forged which can then rapidly collapse. However, it is likely to bring with it new conflicts and clashes of interests. Ominously senior Israeli defence officials say they are preparing for an armed conflict with Iran, although this could be sabre-rattling in the background to the talks to revive the Iran nuclear deal. However, a military conflict cannot be excluded, which would totally destabilize the situation.
As the ruling elites explore realignments at the top for their own interests, the masses continue to face a nightmare on the ground. The bloody repression of the Palestinian people by the Israeli regime continues. The brutal proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iranian-backed forces in Yemen drags on, with Iranian forces seemingly strengthened at this stage. Iraq saw the tremendous united movement bringing together both Sunni and Shia workers and young people in 2019-20, which unfortunately did not advance and came up against the limitation of a mass movement with no organised or programmatic alternative, or clear way forward. A desperate economic collapse and deathly sectarian conflict including ISIS forces currently exist. The carnage which exists throughout the Middle East illustrates that there is no way forward for those societies without the coming to power of a united working-class movement with a socialist programme to break with landlordism and capitalism. The continuation of capitalism will mean the prospect of more failed states, like Lebanon and some others have become already, a dystopian reality.
US crisis at home
The crisis that US imperialism faces internationally is mirrored by the turmoil it confronts domestically. Within one year of winning the presidency, which was greeted with a sense of relief by big sections, Biden has faced crisis after crisis. The US remains a highly polarized and explosive society. The perception of failing to deliver anything substantial, especially against a background of rising inflation, has seen Biden’s approval ratings fall from plus-19 in January 2021 to minus-10 in October. This is a bigger collapse than faced by Obama or Clinton at this stage in their terms! It was mirrored in the recent elections in New Jersey, where the Democrats or only just managed to scrape home, and Virginia where they lost to the Republicans. That 48% still have a favourable view of Trump compared to 46% for Biden shows the underlying polarized and charged political situation that exists. At this stage, it points to the Republicans making gains in the mid-term elections in 2022 and regaining control of the Senate. However, the volatility of the situation means that this is not certain.
Biden hopes that the passing of the $1.2tn infrastructure bill will begin to reverse his fortunes. The role of this increased infrastructure expenditure – the largest infrastructure upgrade since Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency in the 1950s – will have some effect both economically and politically. However, the global headline figure includes $550bn new spending over the next decade. It is to be followed by the ‘Build Back Better’ bill amounting to $1.75tn, which is still being fought over. This has been scaled back from the proposed $4tn package over ten years. Other measures, such as two years of tuition-free at community colleges to every American, $80bn on worker retraining, and a scheme for paid family and medical leave, have all been jettisoned because of objections by a small number of Democrat senators. The measures included in the bill, when it is finally agreed, will have some effect on a layer. However, the rolling back of what was promised will reinforce the perception of Biden failing to deliver and leading a lacklustre presidency.
This is against the background of growing massive inequality and the ‘American Dream’ being left in tatters. The idea of each generation earning more than their parents and the opportunity for upward social mobility being possible for all was very powerful during the era of capitalist upswing. Today, it has been shattered after decades of decline. US citizens born in the 1940s had a 90% chance of earning more than their parents. For those born in the 1980s that chance had dropped to 50%. Today it is far lower. Any chance of upward social mobility for the mass of the population is thwarted today.
This fall, flowing from the protracted but accelerating decline of US imperialism, coupled with the explosion in inequality, is the source of the combustible social and political situation that exists in the USA in the 2020s. Biden is not going to be able to resolve this. It means that major class and political battles are pending in the coming period in the US, which will have a dramatic effect on the world situation.
Significantly since Biden’s election, there has been a significant increase in strikes, at least 1,700 between March and November 2021, amongst many layers of workers, including some sections which are not organised in trade unions. Proposed contracts negotiated by the trade union bureaucracy have been repeatedly voted down by some layers of workers. These are an anticipation of the struggles that lie ahead. That 68% view the idea of trade unions positively illustrates the potential to strengthen the labour movement in this period. The attempts to unionise workers at Amazon, Google and other major companies are also an important development. These trends are also a condemnation of the trade union bureaucracy and its failure in the main to capitalize on this potential. However, an upsurge in workers’ struggle will bring with it a new generation of younger workers in the struggle in the labour movement which is the key to shaking up and eventually transforming the trade unions.
The explosive cocktail which exists in the US means that events in the run-up to the next presidential election in 2024 could make 2020 seem like a dress rehearsal. Trump or Trumpism has not evaporated. It has consolidated its control of the Republican Party. The internal regime in the Republican Party, where threats of violence and intimidation against those who oppose or criticize Trump are commonplace, illustrates how far the party has swung to the right.
The changes they are driving through at the state level, in removing officials who ruled against Trump in 2020 and replacing them with Trump loyalists, together with the blatant gerrymandering of electoral boundaries, threatens to produce a major constitutional crisis in 2024. Republicans currently control all branches of government in 23 states, while the Democrats control only 15. Trump or a Trumpista candidate could lose the popular vote and still be declared the winner. This would provoke massive clashes. It will also further undermine the legitimacy of the entire electoral and government system. The British commentator Martin Wolf warned in his article in the Financial Times entitled ‘The strange death of US democracy’ of the threat of a collapse of “liberal democracy in the US”.
The entire situation cries out for the building of a new mass workers’ party and a break with the Democrats. However, Sanders, Cortez and the ‘left’ of the Democrats refuse to move in this direction. In reality, the DSA remains imprisoned in the Democrats running on their tickets with a limited programme. The failure to take the necessary steps and launch a new party during the Sanders v Clinton contest allowed Trump to garner his forces, which he has maintained and thus complicated the situation.
Multiple uprisings strengths and weaknesses
The crisis gripping US society is a measure of the global crisis facing crony capitalism in the 2020s. Multiple crises exist alongside multiple uprisings of the masses, reflecting the thirst for change. Ecuador, Chile, Colombia, Hong Kong, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, Myanmar, Algeria and others have all included powerful revolutionary features. These movements have been followed by the uprising in Kazakhstan during which the dictatorial regime of Tokayev ordered a brutal massacre which has suppressed the movement into retreat for a period. How long is not certain. These events will be etched into the consciousness of the masses. There is a clear division amongst the oligarchs and Tokayev has been able to cling to power at this stage. Demands for ‘revolution’ and “end neo-liberalism”, against the system, against the rich elites and governments, and for democracy have all been amongst the cries of the masses taken during these movements.
However, they have lacked a programme and organization to take them forward, overthrow the existing governments, and pose the idea of socialism as an alternative to capitalism. These movements have been mainly dominated by a spontaneous character, and have stalled or declined when confronted with the obstacle of what to do next. The limits of spontaneity and lack of a programme and organization have been revealed in all of them.
However, some recently have also reflected significant advances in organization and consciousness when compared to some of the movements which preceded them. The mass movement in Colombia was organized to a greater extent, and included the trade unions and general strike, as compared to the movement in Chile. In Sudan, the formation of community committees, which in some areas have partially taken over the functions of the state and involved the trade unions in the struggle, are extremely significant developments.
Another feature in some of them as they have surged has been the loss of fear amongst the masses. This was seen initially in Hong Kong and Chile but is now a feature clearly evident in Sudan, Myanmar and Kazakhstan. The fact that those on the streets are prepared to die confronting the state machine is a critical point in any revolutionary movement. These movements have revealed incredible resilience. Despite encountering obstacles and reaching an impasse in the struggle for a period, the desperation of the masses and thirst for change has led many of these movements to erupt in a second, third or further wave, as has been seen recently in Sudan. However, the loss of fear of the regimes alone is often not sufficient to overthrow many of them for which organisation, a revolutionary socialist programme and mass party of the working class and poor are necessary. Even if regimes are overthrown, without these crucial tools in the hands of the masses what follows these brutal regimes is sharply posed.
The revolutionary potential and significance of the mass uprisings are crucial. However, it is wrong to fall into the trap, as some forces on the left do, of simply calling for mass movements – ‘movementism’ – and merely cheering them on. The central issue is to assist the movements to take the correct strategical, political and organisational measures to take the revolution forward and to see the limitations of remaining within capitalism and carry through a revolutionary change in society along socialist lines. Without this, as has been demonstrated in Hong Kong, Lebanon, Myanmar and some other countries, even the most resilient and determined movement will reach an impasse or even face bloody defeat.
Repression, the left part parties and the prospects for socialism
The ruling class has responded to these uprisings with brutal repression. The ruling classes internationally are preparing for movements of this scope. There has been a strengthening of the repressive apparatuses including in the imperialist countries. The state in general has assumed a more Bonapartist character in many countries. This is a further illustration of the nature of the era we are now in. The social situation and political polarization which exists means that all aspects of the class struggle will inevitably assume a sharper and more brutal character. Within this process features, in some cases, strong features, of counter-revolution are and will continue to be present. The far-right and some fascistic forces around Trump in the USA, Bolsonaro in Brazil or Modi in India will continue to be a threat in this era of revolution and counter-revolution. This also applies to the racist, far-right populist forces in Europe and elsewhere.
The sharpness of the struggle and brutality of the situation can initially be a shock for the younger generation. However, they can rapidly be hardened through the experience of entering the struggles that erupt.
The deep and profound nature of the crisis is matched by a continued ideological and political disorientation and retreat by the left parties in all countries. They have capitulated to the pressures of lesser evilism and fail to pose the idea of breaking with capitalism or raising the idea of socialism. The idea that “this type of capitalism needs to end” is often advocated by them. They thereby imply that it can be replaced by another type of capitalism, which is as far as their programme and policy go. This has reinforced the delay in the re-emergence of the idea of socialism as an alternative to capitalism.
However, this is beginning to change amongst a small layer. In Britain and the US, a majority of the youth view the idea of socialism in a favourable light, even if they do not have a clear idea of what it is. In a distorted fashion, this is a reflection of the role of the subjective factor. Support for the idea of socialism amongst the youth in these two countries is a by-product of Sanders and Corbyn despite their limitations and failure to explain a real socialist programme. Marxists can assist in this process by audaciously raising the question of socialism in a transitional manner, providing clarity to what it is and how to achieve it.
The depth of the global crisis of capitalism in its death agony means that the fate of humankind depends on the working class being able to rebuild and strengthen its organisations and build a political force with a socialist programme. It is clear that the old world is dying and the new is still struggling to be born. By a skilful application of the Marxist method in the 2020s and a principled programme and flexible tactics, the CWI can play a crucial role in constructing the forces necessary to allow the new world to eventually be delivered. The fate of the working class and the oppressed of the world depends on this being achieved.