CWI contribution to meeting on “The crisis in the imperialist world order and the response of the proletariat”

Rockets fired Photo: Ministry of Defence of Ukraine/CC

On 15/16 July, an international meeting was convened by a number of left organisations in Milan, Italy. Twenty-four organisations of diverse political tendencies meet and debated the international situation. The meeting included Trotskyists, anarchists, and some stating they adhered to Leninism.

The CWI was represented by two comrades and participated in the debates and discussions. The debates centered on the current world situation and tasks for revolutionaries in this era. The CWI submitted the statement below as a contribution to the debate, as did all other organisations. These documents will be published in a bulletin to be produced by the organisers.

COMMITTEE FOR A WORKERS INTERNATIONAL (CWI) STATEMENT

Note: The following text is made up of excerpts from a document issued by the International Executive Committee of the CWI (‘Capitalist society convulsed and in turmoil: new challenges and tasks for Marxists and the working class’), which was published on 30 January 2023. 

Capitalist society is convulsed and in turmoil. Marxists and the working class face one of the most challenging periods in history. 

Capitalist equilibrium is broken in all its aspects: economic, geo-political, social, and class relations. Convulsions and turmoil are consequent of this and are reflected in sharp polarisation on all continents. There is an upturn in the class struggle in some countries, but also national and ethnic conflicts, wars (both military and tariff), and, in some, strong features of social disintegration and even collapse. 

 The optimism and hope held out by capitalism in the middle of the 20th century, and then promised again following the collapse of the former Stalinist states in 1990/1, has been shattered. Any prospect of a return to those eras of relative capitalist stability is a utopian dream. Features of revolution and counter-revolution are now locked together in a drawn-out struggle. The challenge facing the working class and Marxists is to find a way forward through a revolutionary socialist alternative.

 As the CWI has argued in previous theses, capitalism faces a series of multiple and interrelated crises.

 The nature of this phase of capitalism is underpinned by the relative decline of US imperialism, which still remains the strongest power, and the rise of Chinese state capitalism, together with a prolonged crisis in the world economy.

 The economic and financial crisis which hit in 2007/8 marked a turning point in the history of capitalism. Despite some short, shallow upturns a new period of protracted crisis began. All of the dominant trends and indications point towards a protracted, drawn-out series of deeper crises, interspersed with short, shallow, feeble upturns. This means higher levels of exploitation and misery for the working class and middle class globally.

 A protracted death agony of capitalism does not mean that short periods of GDP growth cannot take place. The threat of recession or depression is posed by an explosion of debt in the main imperialist countries.

 The spike in inflation, caused not by rising wages, but by previous monetary policies and fuelled by rocketing government expenditure/debt during the pandemic, supply chain problems, the Ukraine war, and other factors, will not be a short-term problem for the capitalist class. As living standards have plunged or fallen for the mass of the global population, corporate profits and the wealth of the super-rich have exploded.

There is rapid acceleration and development, alongside intense competition, in new areas such as AI, robotics, quantum computing, and nanotechnology for example. The consequences of these developments, if applied, will have explosive consequences as millions of jobs, including in middle-class sectors of employment, are replaced by new technology. The technical and scientific advances being made can come into collision with the capacity of capitalism to apply them on a generalised basis. 

It will not provide the basis for a 4th Industrial Revolution opening an escape route for global capitalism. Yet, even where they are applied they will not be able to overcome the fundamental contradictions of the system. Rather, they will add to the problems faced by capitalism. The massive job losses, disruption, and dislocation that flow from introducing technology will provoke explosive and potentially revolutionary developments. It will also pose crucial questions for building and organising the trade unions and labour movement.

The scientific and technological advances which have taken place potentially can have an enormously beneficial effect on humankind. Yet capitalism will not be able to apply it for the benefit of the mass of the population. A democratic world socialist plan would be tremendously enhanced and benefit from the potential developments in science and technique.

These global machines, in an era of increasing protectionism and national regulation, will not be inclined to accept restrictions and limitations imposed on them by national governments or states. It is an extreme indication of how the development of capitalism has come into contradiction with the limitations imposed by the nation-state. This does not mean a new “super imperialism” is taking shape but it can lead to new twists in the situation. 

The ruling classes have not had a coherent policy or programme to find a way out of the crisis. Through massive state intervention and expenditure, especially during the pandemic, they took measures to prevent a collapse in the economy, and, in effect, adopted a policy of ‘kicking the can down the road’. However, this has its limits and is not preventing the crisis from hitting now. Even with increased state expenditure and intervention, they cannot ultimately overcome the contradiction of falling living standards and the need to create a huge additional market to prepare the way for an economic boom which they cannot do.

The process of “deglobalisation” continues with the increase in trade and tariff conflicts. The US economy is increasingly protectionist.  How far “deglobalisation” goes is uncertain given the interdependence that exists in the world economy.  However, there is a pronounced tendency in this direction at work. A trend towards the Balkanisation of the world economy is present. Unstable blocs and realignments are formed geo-politically as a consequence of the end of a unipolar world. Yet these can also collapse as internal tensions and divisions develop.

The depth and protracted nature of the systemic crisis that capitalism now finds itself in means that the working class and Marxists need to be prepared for major shocks and upheavals. 

A crisis of political leadership exists globally for the working class. There is also a crisis of leadership of the capitalist class. 

 The decline of US imperialism and the rise of China, and the clash between them, dominate the world geo-political situation. 

One character of the era is reflected in the war in Ukraine which is a product of the new world situation. The longer the war continues, with no end in sight, and increasing Russian casualties, the more certain mounting opposition to it, and the Putin regime, becomes. At a certain stage, it may pose an existential threat to Putin’s mafia Bonapartist regime. The most vocal opposition at this stage is from extreme nationalist pro-war elements. The fear of many Western leaders is that should Putin fall, at this stage, his replacement would not be more pro-western but more Russian nationalist. Should a peace agreement of some sort be reached it will not only be Putin who faces a crisis. Zelensky will also face growing opposition in Ukraine at a certain stage.

Opposition to Putin will grow should the war drag on for a lengthier period of time and the body bags continue to mount. As both sides gear up for a spring offensive in 2023 a new bloodier phase of the conflict is now possible. It is not excluded in a scenario where Putin is confronted with further setbacks and a desperate situation that Putin he may still strike out and use a tactical nuclear weapon or other weapons of mass destruction. Should he do so, it would provoke mass protests and a mass anti-war movement internationally. That Putin has put this issue on the table is a reflection of the new era. It cannot be ruled out that such a weapon will be deployed by another, or even more despotic regime, such as North Korea, or other ‘rogue’ regimes which may come to power in the coming period.

The prolonging of the war is already resulting in a certain “war weariness” setting-in in some countries. Bourgeois Western leaders will increase the pressure on Zelensky to negotiate a “deal”. This will not be easy and is not the most likely short-term prospect. However, even if a deal is eventually formally signed in practice, on the ground, a bloody conflict in some form will continue, especially in the east.

The war and its evolution have impacted geo-political relations. US imperialism has used it to try and reassert itself internationally. However, tensions and divisions between the Western imperialist powers have also opened and will become greater the longer the war drags on. The US’s reasserted international role during the crisis is, however, relatively limited, and does not signal a return to the unipolar world of the past. 

Russian setbacks on the battlefield have led China, India, and other states to adopt a more cautious approach to giving full backing to Putin in the war. However, neither have they condemned him. Economically the ties between Russia and China have been strengthened

 The Congress of the Chinese Communist Party marked the culmination of Xi Jinping’s concentration of power into his hands. China has established a special form of state capitalism. However, this has brought with it its own contradictions. The growth of a capitalist elite but where the state could still intervene and take control of ailing companies to safeguard its own interests inevitably resulted in a clash of interests in some sectors. The degree of state intervention can, and will, oscillate, depending on the situation. 

The unfolding of the domestic crisis in China can have major consequences internationally, especially in relation to the rising tensions in the South China Sea. A major military build-up has been taking place by both US and Western imperialism and China. Japan is also vastly increasing its military capacity. The heightened global tensions, combined with a domestic crisis in China, can drive Xi to intervene and try and take Taiwan back into mainland China, whipping up Chinese nationalism and provoking a military collision with the US and Western imperialism.  

The Biden presidency has been marked by very low approval ratings as he has failed to take measures to alleviate the consequences of the social and economic crisis. The mid-term elections, despite delivering a small majority to the Republicans in the House of Representatives, in effect resulted in a draw between the Democrats and the Republicans. Biden was dubbed as the most pro-labour President since Roosevelt. Yet the imposition of the contract on the railways and the outlawing of a rail strike shows how hollow such a claim was. The so-called “left” in the Democrats, like AOC, Sanders, and others, capitulated and supported this attack on workers’ rights revealing their real cowardly character.

The increase in strikes and significant victories in winning union-recognition ballots, including at the EV General Motors car plant, is a pointer to the beginning of a new chapter in re-building the labour movement and an upturn in the class struggle. 

Areas of the neo-colonial world are facing carnage. Wars continue in Ethiopia, Syria, and elsewhere. Nigeria faces ethnic clashes and a rising tendency towards social disintegration. 

Crucially, there have been extremely powerful features of revolution in the multiple mass uprisings which have taken place, especially since 2019. The movements in Ecuador, Chile, Colombia, and across Latin America were accompanied by uprisings in Iraq, Sudan, Lebanon, and elsewhere.

These have now been joined by the mass uprisings, unprecedented in their scale, in Sri Lanka and then in Iran. In Sri Lanka, the calling of a general strike marked a crucial step forward, as did the strikes that have taken place in Iran. 

However, they have all also revealed the obstacles that need to be overcome in organisation, party, and political consciousness. They all assumed a spontaneous, or semi-spontaneous, character and lacked a rounded-out political objective. The spontaneous elements initially had a positive effect, in that the old organisations and leaders could not hold the movement back. However, dialectically, this turned into its opposite as the limits of spontaneity allowed the ruling class to retain control and themselves in power. 

However, none of the underlying social and economic causes of the crises that provoked these movements have been resolved. At a certain stage, the movements can re-erupt on an even higher level.

The absence of revolutionary socialist leadership and socialist organisation, and the role of those leaders who did emerge, is one decisive factor. However, the character of these movements also reflected the throwing back of political consciousness in general which has taken place. They were on a far lower political level than the revolutionary movements which have taken place historically in, for example, the 1920s, 1930s, or the 1970s. Political consciousness is not fixed or static and will pass through many ebbs and flows depending on the situation.

The masses learn through the experience of struggle, assisted by the intervention of the revolutionary party. The ideological and programmatic cowardliness of the so-called “left” in this period is stark. They have offered no challenge to capitalism and have capitulated to it, often in the form of lesser-evilism.

This is most graphically seen in Latin America, which has many lessons for the international situation. The mass uprisings which swept the continent have given way to a second “pink wave” with the election of a series of ‘left’ governments in Chile, Peru, Colombia and now Lula in Brazil. The election victories were a by-product of the revolutionary uprisings which preceded them. However, without exception, the new ‘left’ governments are less radical than those during the first “pink wave”. This is despite the crisis being deeper and more severe. Further disillusionment with these new ‘left’ governments brings with it a warning that the right and far-right can bounce back or make further gains which the workers’ movement needs to be prepared for.

These betrayals by the ‘left’ in Latina America are a repetition of those of the so-called “new left” in Europe but on a broader scale. This was clearly seen by SYRIZA in Greece in 2015 and then the capitulation of PODEMOS in Spain, Left Bloc in Portugal, and elsewhere. It led to the demise of these parties, and, in Britain, routing of the Corbynistas in the Labour Party due to their retreat and failure to carry through a struggle to the end and seeking to compromise with the righting of the party. 

The need for new mass workers’ parties and the dual task of building them, and at the same time building revolutionary parties, is more relevant than ever given the depth of the crisis. However, this has been an extremely protracted process so far and may continue to be so reflecting the ideological collapse of the left which has taken place. When the “new parties” failed – like Greece or Spain – it can make the idea of building another new party more complicated. The refusal of the “left” to want to do this – Corbyn in Britain, Mélenchon in France, Sanders in the US – also complicates the process. Yet a layer can learn from these experiences and help prepare the ground for new parties to develop at a certain stage. 

Yet building a revolutionary party is not dependent on this taking place. We must not wait for new mass parties to develop. A layer during this crisis can be won straight to the programme and ideas of revolutionary socialism.  Ultimately the fate of humankind now rests on the socialist revolution being carried through. It is the only road to avoid the barbarism that capitalism will offer in the coming decades.

 

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