War and revolution at the beginning of the 21st century

An update to The New World Disorder - World Relations at the dawn of the 21st Century. Events on an international plane are moving with lightning speed. In just over a month after the present document was written, its general lines have already received striking confirmation. The world crisis expresses itself in continuing instability. The most striking manifestation of this was the revolutionary movement in Ecuador. But no less important in its long-term implications was the surprise resignation of Boris Yeltsin on New Years Eve. The fall of Yeltsin is yet another example of the sudden and sharp changes which reflect the nature of the present period, not just in Russia, but on a world scale.

An update on world relations

Events on an international plane are moving with lightning speed. In just over a month after the present document was written, its general lines have already received striking confirmation. The world crisis expresses itself in continuing instability. The most striking manifestation of this was the revolutionary movement in Ecuador. But no less important in its long-term implications was the surprise resignation of Boris Yeltsin on New Years Eve. The fall of Yeltsin is yet another example of the sudden and sharp changes which reflect the nature of the present period, not just in Russia, but on a world scale. These developments will have come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the contents of The New World Disorder - World Relations at the dawn of the 21st Century, where they were explained in advance.

Ferment in Russia

To begin with Russia. Why did Yeltsin resign? It is hardly likely that this was a voluntary act. Boris Yeltsin had every reason to cling to power for as long as possible for fear of prosecution for corruption and abuse of power. His resignation was therefore not a matter of choice. He did not fall. He was pushed. The question is: Who did the pushing? In the document we wrote:

"The new war in Chechnya is further evidence of a shift of power in Russia in the direction of the military. The generals are now clearly in the saddle. Not only are they deciding the war agenda in Chechnya, but they are doing so without regard to the opinions of the Kremlin clique. Boris Yeltsin is now an irrelevance. But the army caste will not pay any attention to the rest of the so-called government of Russia which they regard as the source of all their troubles."

These lines were written, in point of fact, in November of last year. It was clear to us that Yeltsin had already lost power. We believe that, in effect, Yeltsin has been sidelined since last Summer. What convinced us of this was the closing chapter of the Kosovo war, when the Russian troops made a surprise advance on Pristina. Such an action was clearly not decided by the pro-Western clique in the Kremlin, as we pointed out at the time:

"Nor is it likely that Yeltsin knew. This is hardly surprising since nowadays the President of Russia hardly knows anything. He was merely the mouthpiece of the Kremlin clique. They call him the Pen because his daughter hands him a decree and he just signs it. Verging on alcoholic senility, Yeltsin is normally incapable of reacting to anything, let alone evolving clever plans to fool Nato. Only from time to time does he experience a violent seizure (usually associated with a fit of jealous rage against the current prime minister) and appears on television to dismiss the government."

In reality, the bourgeois regime in Russia has never acquired stability. The constant crises at the top are merely a reflection of the impasse of the system itself. If we accept the Marxist dictum that the viability of a given socio-economic system depends, in the last analysis, on its ability to develop the means of production, then we can only conclude that the attempt to move in the direction of capitalism has failed. The period of so-called market reform has produced the biggest collapse of the productive forces ever seen in time of peace. And with economic collapse comes the collapse of culture, science - and military capability.

The nascent bourgeoisie in Russia is utterly incapable of playing a progressive role. This fact must now be evident to everyone. For the past ten years they have plundered the wealth of Russia and then sent their ill-gotten gains abroad where it lies safely in the deposits of German and Swiss banks. There is no question of productive investment to any significant degree. But such a situation cannot continue. No society can live indefinitely in the kind of collapse we see in Russia. It is true that after the debacle of August 1998 there has been a relative and temporary stabilisation of the Russian economy due mainly to the rising price of oil and the steep devaluation of the rouble. But this unstable recovery will not last. Only a serious increase in productive investment can provide a way out for Russia. But how is this to be achieved?

The ruling clique in the Kremlin is utterly degenerate. It staked everything on good relations with the West, particularly the USA, to provide the necessary financial assistance and investment. This strategy, which involved the humiliating sell-out of Russia's global interests to US imperialism, has failed completely. Having burnt their fingers in Russia, Western investors are in no hurry to risk their money again. In any case the sums involved were too small to make any real difference. Russia has been economically ruined and politically humiliated. The IMF and other Western institutions have been keeping Russia on rations. But now this process has reached its limits.

Effects of Kosovo

The Kosovo war, as we explained was a turning point in the relations between Russia and the West. In effect, the Russian generals said: "Thus far, and no further!" There has been a ferocious struggle between different factions, in which the West has attempted to keep its men in power in Moscow, but has been fighting a losing battle. The dismissal of Primakov and the imposition of Stepashin was a concession to Washington. But when Stepashin failed to act with sufficient decision to the provovation in Dagestan organised by Basayev and the fundamentalist wing of the Chechen regime, he was immediately ousted by the military. This was a coup d'état in all but name. It revealed the real relationship of forces in Moscow. Putin, the ex-KGB apparatchik was the military's candidate.

This action prepared the way for the present bloody episode in Chechnya. Predictably, Putin's popularity has risen. But Putin's popularity will rise or fall together with that of the war itself. And that is not a fixed quantity. Napoleon long ago pointed out that war is the most complicated of all equations. In principle, the Russians had every possibility to win with the minimum number of casualties. Imitating the Nato strategy in Kosovo, they assiduously avoided committing troops on the ground, preferring to bombard the towns and cities from a safe distance. The actions of the Chechen fundamentalist leaders had succeeded in alienating the mass of the population to the extent that many people were waiting for the Russians, if not exactly as liberators, then at least as a possible lesser evil. With an intelligent policy of winning hearts and minds, and providing the necessary cash for rebuilding and feeding the population, they could have isolated and disarmed their opponents.

However, the bourgeois clique in Moscow is not only incapable of thinking of anything beyond its immediate gain, but is also extremely stingy. Instead of providing funds for relief, they have bombed harmless villages to rubble. Instead of sending warm clothes, tents and medicine, they have condemned countless numbers of men, women and children to freeze and starve in harsh winter conditions of the Northern Caucasus. This is what is giving heart to the Chechen fighters and encouraging them to resist and even counter-attack. With every passing day, Russian casualties are mounting. Not that this will change the general outcome of the war. The military remains firmly set on fighting to the bitter end to conquer Chechnya, even if it means reducing the country to rubble. But the prolongation of the conflict and the increase in Russian casualties can produce a growing disenchantment with the war among ordinary Russian people.

Will Putin Survive?

At the moment Putin appears to be in firm control. But these are early days. If one asks what Putin has actually done to solve Russia's problems, then the answer must be: nothing, except the Chechen adventure, and where that will end up is still unsure. As far as the decisive question of the economy is concerned, his programme appears to be non-existent. The attitude of the West to the new man in the Kremlin remains cautious. Of course, they breathed a sigh of relief after the December elections. Yet they are uncertain as to which way Putin may go. In public he is all things to all men. But the question remains: how will Russia obtain the necessary funds for investment? For the present, his strategy seems to consist of attempting to persuade Russia's oligarchs to return most of their stolen billions in return for a comfortable lifestyle and immunity from prosecution. But this will not work. The oligarchy will not voluntarily surrender its wealth. No devil has ever cut off his own claws! They must be compelled to do so. But this implies an all-out war on the mafia-capitalists. Since Putin himself has been implicated in the past in the shady activities of the Yeltsin clique, and has certainly benefited from the wholescale plunder of state assets, he is probably not the best man for this task. In all probability, if Putin cannot or will not deliver the required results, he will be pushed to one side and replaced by somebody who will.

The interests of the military caste demand rearmament. This presupposes a huge increase in state spending. This, in turn, presupposes a huge increase in investment. On the basis of capitalism this is ruled out. The complete degeneracy of the Russian capitalists is shown by what has happened in the last twelve months. Despite the fact that oil prices sharply increased and Russia increased its oil exports to a very respectable 240 million tons, the state's income from taxes actually went down. This situation is clearly both intolerable and unstustainable.

For the time being the working class has its head down. The workers are waiting to see what will happen. To some extent the situation was ameliorated over the past twelve months. Then came the Chechen war, which has temporarily confused matters. The leaders of the so-called Communist Party are presenting no alternative. On the contrary, they are so degenerate, and so intent upon preserving their privileged position as members of the Duma, that they have been prepared to do a deal with Putin's "Unity" party to share out the committees in the Russian parliament. However, the situation of millions of workers and pensioners has not improved in the slightest. The provinces are in a dire position. Sooner or later there will be a new explosion of the class struggle which will place revolutionary developments on the order of the day.

In 1917 the revolution unfolded rapidly over a period of just nine months. The reason for the speed with which events moved was the presence of the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky. Given the lack of leadership, and the unspeakable degeneration of the CPRF, a rapid development is ruled out. The revolution in Russia will unfold over a period of years, with ebbs and flows, before the decisive showdown between the classes is placed on the order of the day. Within the general process of the revolution there will inevitably be periods of tiredness and even reaction. But every set-back will only be the prelude to new upheavals. A genuine stabilisation on the basis of capitalism is ruled out. That is the fundamental factor in the equation. Through harsh experience the masses will learn. And the delay in the revolution will provide the necessary time for the cadres of genuine Marxism in Russia to build their influence among the workers and youth to the point where they can provide the leadership that is indispensable for success.

Revolution in Latin America

The whole continent of Latin America is in deep recession. The devaluation of the Brazilian currency has provoked shock waves in Argentina and threatens to destroy Mercosur, the regional trade bloc. The economic crisis is producing political and social instability in one country after another. After the defeat of Menem in Argentina, the Left came close to winning the election in Uraguay, and a Socialist candidate won the election in Chile for the first time since Allende.

More importantly, the northern countries of Latin America are in the throes of a revolutionary crisis. In Colombia the guerrilla armies control more than half of the country. In Venezuela, the Chavez government has been thrust into power by the masses and is coming into confrontation with the oligarchy. In Peru, there have been mass demonstrations against the dictator Fujimori. But above all in Ecuador, the economic and social crisis has led to a revolutionary situation in which the mass of workers and peasants have carried out an insurrection which was only frustrated by the betrayal of the leadership.

After a week of mass mobilisation, demonstrations, strikes and clashes, on Friday 21st of January tens of thousands of Indians, peasants, workers and students in Ecuador took over one by one the buildings of the Parliament, the Supreme Court and the National Palace and established an alternative government. This magnificent movement was the direct result of the intolerable pressure of imperialism. The structural adjustment plans dictated by the IMF have provoked an economic catastrophe: two thirds of the population under the poverty line, hyperinflation and mass unemployment.

In 1995 Ecuador waged a short war against Peru with the main aim of diverting the masses attention from their social problems into a wave of nationalist fervour. The aim was the same as that of Putin in Russia. But this lasted for a very short period of time. Within a few months there were mass workers' protests against the economic policies of the government, which culminated in 1996 with a massive vote for Abdalá Bucaram who won the presidency on the basis of demagogic promises. In a few months he had broken all his promises and adopted the same adjustment plans dictated by the IMF, including massive price hikes for all basic products. Overnight, electricity went up by 500%, gas by 340%, telephone charges by 700%.

Following this, the trade unions called strikes and general strikes. But on the basis of capitalism no way out was possible. The economy continued to collapse, with 62% of the population below the poverty line, 70% of the workforce either unemployed or underemployed, a fall of the economy by 7.2% and an inflation rate of 70%. Faced with this situation the Mahuad government decided to decree the dollarisation of the economy at a rate of 25,000 sucres per dollar. This was a recipe for further cuts in public spending, privatisations, cuts in wages and subsidies.

This was what led to a nationwide insurrection in Ecuador. This has profound implications for the whole of Latin America and the rest of the world. It went even further than the revolution in Albania, where the uprising started in the South but failed to march on Tirana, which was easily possible. In Ecuador, the insurgent peasants marched on the capital Quito where they linked up with the workers. On the basis of fraternisation, the decisive layers of the army went over to the side of the revolution, and the officer caste was split.

This process has been analysed by Jorge Martin in an article called "The Uprising in Ecuador Marks the Beginning of the 21st Century", which states:

"The character of this movement reveals a qualitative change. The struggle is no longer just to change president or to force new elections. Now the open aim of the struggle is a "national insurrection", the establishment of people's parliaments at national, regional and local level as the sole bodies of power, and the abolition of the three branches of state power (executive, judiciary, and legislative)."

Here we have in embryo the same process that took place in the Paris Commune, where the masses overthrew the old state power and began to run society. The Ecuadorian paper El Comercio described it in this way: "The Indian and social movements changed what had been their leadership and political platform since they first appeared as a resistance force in the early 90s. This change, in the form of the current uprising, led them to break completely with the established forms of power. ... They are looking to set up a parallel state, with their own rules and representatives ... the ultimate goal of this movement is not to overthrow president Mahuad or to take their demands to Congress. This they have already done and they did not achieve any results... This is why they raise the need to establish new forms of organisation. The path they have chosen is not only the continuation of their so-called provincial parliaments and the national one, but also the creation of new ones at county level. A democracy which they call direct, without asking no one for permission, and without resorting to middlemen. In the past they already used them but failed to get any results" (El Comercio, 16/1/00)

What we saw in Ecuador was the opening shots of the revolution in Latin America. The weakness of the movement, as in the Paris Commune and in Albania, was the absence of a leadership with a clear perspective, strategy and plan of action. This enabled the bourgeoisie, masquerading as "progressives" to betray the revolution. After the masses had conquered power through their own energy and initiative, their gains were squandered and the power simply handed back to the old exploiters.

But this betrayal was rendered easier by the confusion of those who have accepted the false notion of "the national democratic revolution." The idea that it is possible to unite the workers and peasants with "progressive bourgeois" and "honest patriots" is a lie and an illusion. The problems of Ecuador can never be resolved until the hold of the bourgeoisie on the economy is broken and power passes directly to the hands of the people. "Honest brokers" from the ranks of the bourgeoisie will always side with the exploiters in the last analysis and betray the people. The only class which can show a way out of the impasse is the proletariat, fighting shoulder to shoulder with its natural allies the poor peasants. Our slogan is therefore: Absolute class independence! No trust in the bourgeoisie - especially those who hide behind the progressive banner! Trust only in your own forces and organisation!

Even if the masses of Ecuador lose the first round of the fight, there will be other battles. The main thing is that the proletarian vanguard learn the lessons. The secret of success lies not in manoeuvres and blocs with alien elements, but in developing and extending the popular committees, in giving them the most democratic expression as the elected organs of the workers and poor peasants, of rigorously excluding from their ranks all bourgeois elements, of linking up the committees on a local, regional and national basis. By uniting the workers, poor peasants, soldiers and urban poor, it will be possible to sweep aside all resistance and carry through the revolution with little or no violence. Once the industry, banks, land and mines are in the hands of the working people, it will be possible to begin to solve the problems of Ecuador. But the prior condition is to break the power of the landlords, capitalists and imperialists. No other solution is possible.

A socialist Ecuador would be a beacon to the oppressed peoples of the whole of Latin America. But it could not survive as an isolated entity. The idea of a federation of the peoples of Latin America is as old as Bolivar. By combining the colossal potential of Latin America in a common democratic socialist plan of production, all the problems could be solved. A boundless vista of prosperity and cultural advance would open up before us. Thus, the concept of proletarian internationalism is not an optional extra or empty phrase but a matter of life and death for the revolution. US imperialism does not want to get involved in a costly ground war in Latin America. But it would not stand by with folded arms while this key area fell to revolution. It would incite one state against another, plunging the area into a nightmare of wars and bloodshed. Peru and Ecuador have already had a war not long ago. Washington would not hesitate to push Fujimori into a war against revolutionary Ecuador, if that became necessary. The only way to avoid this is a clear internationalist strategy, carrying the revolutionary flame from one country to another.

The revolutionary developments in Ecuador underline the explosive situation that exists throughout Latin America. This directly threatens the United States, which is already involved in a semi-covert military operation in Colombia, as the document points out. But the spread of the revolutionary movement in Latin America will reveal the impotence of even the most powerful imperialist country. Before 1945, if the USA felt threatened by a movement in any colonial country, it would immediately send the marines. The next day the front pages of US newspapers would invariably carry the same headline: "The marines have landed, and the situation is under control." Not any more! The Cuban revolution and Vietnam showed the limits of the power of US imperialism. Far from successfully intervening against the revolution in Latin America the USA, where 20 percent of the population are now Latinos, will be facing colossal upheavals at home.

The revolution in Ecuador fell like a thunderbolt, apparently from a clear blue sky. But in reality it was the inevitable outcome of accumulated contradictions which had become unbearable. The same unbearable contradictions exist in many countries in Latin America - and not only there. Similar conditions produce similar results. The movement which has started in Ecuador will not end there. This is the final answer to all those cowards, deserters and cynics who doubted the ability of the working class to change society. The capitalist New World Disorder has produced wars, bloodshed, poverty and ethnic strife everywhere. The first page has been turned. On the second page will be inscribed - the socialist revolution.