On 17 October, a major Brazilian daily paper, Jornal de Comercio published a long interview with Alan Woods: a discussion ranging from Donald Trump, to Hugo Chávez, to Jeremy Corbyn and Trotsky's biography of Stalin. We republish the interview here in its entirety.
Special report by Carlos Villela
In the year that marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution, British political theorist, Alan Woods, visited Brazil and was in Porto Alegre to launch his translation of the new edition of the book Stalin. One of the architects of the revolution, Leon Trotsky, was working on this biography when he was assassinated by a Soviet agent in Mexico City in 1940.
As critical of the Russian dictator as was Trotsky, Woods sees Stalin as a “bureaucratic and totalitarian caricature" and “a monster who came to power over the dead bodies of the (Communist) Party leaders.” In this interview with Jornal do Comércio, Woods says he believes that the economic crisis of 2008 was directly responsible for popular revolt against the political system in several countries. The theoretician also commented on the crisis in Venezuela and the government of US President Donald Trump, who, in his view, "is the real ugly and crude face of capitalism, while the so-called centre is only capitalism with a mask."
Jornal do Comércio: The left was defeated in elections around the world last year, along with a revolt against the current political system. Does that explain the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States?
Alan Woods: My first observation is that the ruling class in the United States was not happy with Trump. They remain unhappy, and are trying to get rid of him. There are three reasons for this. If you look at the history of the USA over the last 100 years, it was based on two fundamental pillars: the Republicans and Democrats. Stability there depended on this balance. But, as my favorite American author Gore Vidal says: "our republic has one party, the Property Party, with two right wings."
The interesting thing about these elections is that this system has completely broken down. Everyone thought Hillary Clinton would be the winner. All the press was against Donald Trump, and yet he won. They [the ruling class] like a politician they can control, and they cannot control Trump.
In this context it is very important to consider another politician, Bernie Sanders. When he introduced himself as a candidate for the Democratic Party, no one paid any attention, and yet this man talking about the need for a political revolution against the billionaire class got a lot of support from the people. And if the election had been between Bernie Sanders and Trump, Sanders might have won. What you see in the US is a rage against the system.
JC: As a billionaire, would not Trump be part of that system?
Woods: Trump is a multi-billionaire, but he talked a lot about the working-class. Paradoxically, Trump appealed specifically to the poorest groups. He is a demagogue. It was all a lie, but he talked about the closed factories and mines, and these people are desperate. This struck a chord with millions of Americans who were sick of this system. What Trump is, in fact, I would say, is the real crude and ugly face of capitalism. The so-called centre is capitalism with a mask.
JC: In your opinion, what are the causes of this political polarization?
Woods: In 2008, the so-called free-market economy, which was supposed to be our salvation, collapsed. And this happened because of the big banks. According to economists, the state should have no role in the economy, but in 2008 the banks rushed to the state to ask for money, and the state gave that money. And that is just why this capitalist economy still exists.
I might add that, 10 years later, we still have not got out of this crisis. All that was achieved was to turn a huge black hole in the finances of the big banks into a huge black hole in the public finances. And that's why you have the deficit. There is no money for houses, for the poor, for health and for education, but there is plenty of money for the banks. And there are constant attacks on the living standards of the poorest.
JC: Younger voters often do not identify themselves with the centre, tending more to the left or to the right. What is the reason for this?
Woods: It's because the political centre is a fiction. Society is increasingly divided between a small group of people who control the system and most people who are getting poorer and tend to rebel against the system. Capturing the centre ground was an idea of Tony Blair [former British Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007] to try to find an agreement between the parties, but this agreement is impossible, because they are completely antagonistic.
What we are seeing is the collapse of the centre. The guys who hold power are not happy about it. These groups were very happy because Emmanuel Macron, a centrist, won in France, but in fact 70 per cent of people did not bother to vote. In addition, the left-wing Jean-Luc Mélenchon is the most popular politician in France.
And just look at Britain, where the Conservative Party thought it was going to win the election by a large margin – the polls gave them a 20 percent advantage – but that did not happen. What happened was that the Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, remained the opposition, but reduced the difference drastically. It is very likely that Corbyn will win the next election.
JC: Why do so many people within the Labour Party, especially those linked to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, dislike Corbyn?
Woods: It's not the case that people do not like Jeremy Corbyn. He is the most popular politician in Britain. Do you like rock? I do not. But there is a very popular rock festival [called] Glastonbury, in which more than 100,000 people participate. This summer, they invited a political figure to address the festival from the main stage, and this figure was Jeremy Corbyn.
Is he unpopular within the party? Yes, but [only] within parliament. For the past two years they've been trying to get rid of Corbyn in every possible way, but they failed. In my view, the Parliamentary Party in does not represent the Labour Party. Since Corbyn was elected leader of the party, there has a been a huge stream of new members, especially younger people.
JC: You were close to former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. In your opinion, what led Venezuela to the present political crisis?
Woods: I was a very close friend of Chávez, and I supported the Bolivarian Revolution from the beginning. The problem there – and I have discussed it with Chávez many times and said it on Venezuelan television – is that you cannot make half a revolution. Either you liquidate the power of the oligarchy, or they will liquidate us. You cannot try to balance between the classes, because it leads to chaos.
JC: Was it out of fear or weakness?
Woods: I believe it's the result of reformist illusions. The problem with Chávez, and especially Nicolás Maduro, whom I also know, is that they did not do what was necessary. They did not expropriate land, the banks and the major industries. The idea of combining capitalism and socialism without eliminating the market economy is impossible in practice. This leads to chaos, and chaos is what leads to counterrevolution.
JC: Maduro lost a lot of support from the left after the protests and more than 40 deaths. Does this directly affect the Venezuelan governmental project?
Woods: The left is divided on this issue. I think those so-called leftists in Brazil and Argentina who support the opposition to Maduro should ask themselves: what is the alternative? If the Venezuelan revolution is defeated, it will be a blow to the left on a world scale. I do not understand why some foolish people cannot see this.
JC: Has China not succeeded in balancing communism and capitalism?
Woods: No, because China is actually a capitalist market country. Certainly there are some things, like the banks, that are managed by the state, which gives the Chinese state an advantage. That's why they managed to avoid the collapse in 2008. Despite this, I believe a Chinese collapse is imminent.
China produces a huge quantity of commodities, and they need to export within the context of the world market. If Europe and America are consuming less, then China cannot produce. The Chinese are in a very difficult situation because the world economy will not be able to absorb their exports. Donald Trump is already threatening China with a trade war, and capitalism cannot solve this problem.
JC: Another political crisis is currently taking place in the Middle East. It has led to a crisis of refugees and political instability in the region. How do you see power relations in the region, especially now that tensions between the United States and Russia are growing after investigations into alleged Russian interference in US elections?
Woods: The whole ghastly mess that we see in the Middle East has only one cause, which is the invasion of Iraq by the United States. Saddam Hussein was a dictator, a monster, but does anyone believe that what they have now is better than they had before?
The United States behaved very stupidly, they did nothing but destabilize the Middle East. They wiped out the Iraqi army, the only force that could fight the Islamic state. The people who are opposed to the Bashar Al-Assad regime are not “moderate Islamists”. There is no moderate opposition in Syria.
And it is interesting to note the limitations of American power. The most powerful country on the planet economically and militarily in reality has lost the war. Now Russia decides everything that happens in Syria, the United States does not determine anything, and they are the only ones to blame for this crisis.
JC: You came to Brazil to present the book Stalin, which Trotsky was working on when he was killed. Does Stalin's image still scare people around the world?
Woods: I do not think so. Stalin is finished; he is a thing of the past. He was a monster who rose to power over the dead bodies of leaders of the Bolshevik Party. Stalin is completely discredited today.
At the beginning of the revolution, Russia was the most democratic country in history. But there were no resources and conditions to build socialism in Russia; this is why Lenin and Trotsky always based themselves on the idea of an international revolution. When the revolution was isolated in Russia, it began to slide backwards.
Stalin was a rather insignificant figure within the Bolshevik Party. And Trotsky was the one who led the resistance. After Lenin's death, Trotsky tried to preserve the original ideas of the Revolution, but Stalin came to power destroying the Bolshevik Party. Stalinism was a bureaucratic and totalitarian caricature of socialism, which is why it collapsed.
JC: Is there a possibility of a new Hitler or Mussolini, who does not necessarily commit the same atrocities, but who has the same rhetoric?
Woods: No, I do not think that's possible. And the reason this is not possible is because the correlation of class forces is different to what it was in the 1930s. At that time, teachers would never consider themselves part of the working-class, they would never strike. Students, before World War II, were upper-class kids, many of them fascists. Today, when there is a strike, students and teachers are the first to support. Fascism has lost much of its mass base.
JC: Can a revolution like the one led by Bolsheviks happen again? Are there any politicians today resembling Trotsky, for example?
Woods: It could happen yes, why not? People do not know it, but the Russian Revolution was a peaceful revolution. But I would not say it would be a single person like Trotsky. What we have is Trotsky's ideas, as well as the ideas of Lenin, Marx and Engels. These ideas, without a doubt, can serve the cause of revolution. I'm sure it will happen. Sooner or later it will happen in one country or another – that country may even be Brazil!
Profile: Alan Woods is 72 years old and is a British Marxist political theorist. Born in Swansea, Wales, he is considered one of the main icons of world Trotskyism today. One of the founding leaders of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT), Woods played an activist role within the left-wing of the UK Labor Party until the 1990s, when he was expelled for ideological differences. A friend of Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013, Woods was seen as his political adviser when the former Venezuelan president spoke on a television network reading Reformism or Revolution, the most famous of his more than 20 books and pamphlets. In 2002, he helped found Hands Off Venezuela, a political support group for Chavismo and opposed to the US aggression against the country. He studied Russian and Philosophy at the University of Sussex in England, and then University of Sofia, Bulgaria and Moscow State University. Woods is married and has two daughters.