Today we publish the fourth part of the IMT’s analysis of the world situation.This part deals with the ongoing revolutions in Latin America and the Middle East, the movements in Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Egypt and Iran, as well as world relations and the decline of US imperialism. [part one]
The economies of a number of South American countries (including Brazil, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia) which benefited from exporting raw materials, commodities and energy sources to China, are now suffering the knock-on effects of the slowdown of the Chinese economy. This will have profound political and social implications in the next period, as we have already seen with the big movements against fare rises in Brazil.
After a period of rising class struggle throughout Latin America (most notably in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador), with right wing governments being overthrown in mass uprisings, the election of presidents who took measures that pushed them into conflict with imperialism, regional uprisings, etc., the revolutionary wave in the continent seemed to have reached a certain hiatus. There is a kind of deadlock in the struggle between the classes, in which neither side has been able to win a decisive victory.
Attempted coups were defeated by the masses in Venezuela (on several occasions), Ecuador and Bolivia. The forces of reaction and imperialism were not able to inflict a decisive defeat on any of these movements, with the exception of the coups in Paraguay and Honduras, which nevertheless did not put an end to the revolutionary movement in those countries.
In Colombia, the beginning of peace negotiations between the government and the FARC, which shows the inability of the guerrillas to win the war, have opened the way for the development of the class struggle along classical lines. The new president Santos has seen his popularity collapse (from 46% down to 21% between June and August 2013) after a series of strikes of the coffee growers, judiciary workers, students, and more recently, a national agrarian strike which put his government against the ropes. The attempt of the Colombian ruling class to “normalise” its methods of rule (after having relied heavily on the paramilitaries under Uribe), backfired as a wave of class struggle was unleashed.
With the return of the PRI to power, the Mexican ruling class has managed to get a relatively strong government which has allowed it to carry out measures they had been planning for years. Even before Peña Nieto was sworn in, they had already approved the labour reform. This eliminated a series of conquests, won at the time of the Mexican revolution, which would make it easier to exploit the working class.
Another key step has been the energy counter-reform, which opens the door for multinational companies to invest in the electricity and oil sectors. The nationalisation of oil, by the Lazaro Cardenas government in 1938, meant that, for many decades, Mexico had relative economic and social stability. Now, that has come to an end. Before the energy reform, the oil company Pemex was contributing up to 40% of the state budget. Now, a large part of those resources will be channelled into the pockets of private capitalists. This will lead to a budget deficit, which will be balanced through increased taxation and cuts in social spending.
The decay of Mexican capitalism is expressed by growing unemployment, the development of the informal economy and by growing misery and social decomposition. This is most clearly expressed in the development of the drugs market and the resulting war on drugs, which has meant increased pain for the masses. These reforms mark a turning point, and they will lead to a worsening of the living conditions of the Mexican people, in the coming years.
The leadership of the unions and of Morena, with its reformist electoral outlook, has acted as a brake which has prevented a unified fight-back based on the methods of revolutionary mass action. However, there is a growing mood of anger. This is being expressed by the formation of Morena, in militant trade union struggles - like those of the teachers and electricity workers - by the entry into the movement of a new generation of radicalised youth, and by the development of the many community police and self-defence groups.
In the state of Guerrero there have been mass armed mobilisations, and in Michoacan there are municipalities, which are in a state of open civil war. Though this process is riddled with contradictions, these are symptoms of the enormous pressure that decomposing Mexican capitalism is exerting on the masses - which are beginning to draw revolutionary conclusions. The government of Peña Nieto will continue its policy of attacks and counter-reforms, which are preparing a widespread fight-back by the workers.
However, because of the lack of the subjective factor—a clear revolutionary leadership—the Latin American masses were prevented from taking power into their hands and abolishing capitalism. This has led to an impasse and a temporary and unstable equilibrium between the classes, a state of affairs that was prolonged by the economic boom. The world recession which started in 2007-08 only partially affected South America, and the region recovered quickly from it, on the back of resource-hungry China. But that is now coming to an end. That was revealed in a very dramatic way by events in Brazil.
In the last period (until 2011), Brazil enjoyed high rates of growth, mainly because of exports to China. This enabled the capitalists to concede wage demands when confronted with labour shortages and strikes. Wages rose by an average of 3.5% between 2002 and 2013 in real, but in dollar terms, the increase was still higher (the real was overvalued). 95% of wage negotiations ended in increases higher than the rate of inflation.
But now everything has changed. The sharp slowdown of the economy in 2011 (+2.7%) and 2012 (+0.9%) suddenly revealed widespread frustration, culminating in the eruption of the mass movement in June 2013. The relatively low levels of investment by the capitalists meant that rising wages have not been matched by increased productivity. Since 2003, Brazil's unit labour costs have doubled, and in dollar terms they have even trebled.
The low levels of investment have led to a steep fall in productivity compared to the other big economies. The boom in exports to China masked for a period the catastrophic position of Brazil. An Economist special report on Brazil (September 28, 2013) indicates that Brazil is moving towards a period of increased crisis and class struggle. Inflation, which is approaching 6%, is driving down the living standards of ordinary people and fuelling the economic demands of the working class. This fact explains the desire of a section of the Brazilian bourgeois to get rid of the PT. They don't feel the PT will be able to wield the knife soon and deep enough. Another section is terrified at the prospect of dealing with the rising class struggle without the aid of the PT leaders.
The movement against fare rises, which rapidly spread to the whole country, reflected a wider discontent which had accumulated in society. It represented the arrival of the revolutionary wave of the Arab countries and Southern Europe to Brazil. Although the movement was leaderless and inevitably had many confused elements, it represented a significant turning point, and was followed by a series of national days of action by the trade union movement and a huge mobilisation around the teachers’ strike. Dilma Roussef will certainly not enjoy the long economic boom which guaranteed the stability of Lula in power. This will create exceptional conditions for the Brazilian Marxists in the next period.
In Venezuela, the narrow victory of Maduro in the April presidential elections, after the death of Chavez, represented a serious warning to the Bolivarian movement. However, the attempt of the oligarchy to use the close result to overthrow Maduro backfired. Once again the masses came out on the streets and defeated the right-wing provocations through revolutionary mobilisation.
The key factor is now that the economic dislocation caused by the attempt to regulate the capitalist economy, the deliberate sabotage of the ruling class, and the investment strike on the part of the capitalists is seriously eroding the social basis of support for the revolution. Scarcity of basic products is combined with rampant inflation, which has now reached 50%. This situation cannot be sustained for a very long period of time. Either the revolution takes decisive steps in the direction of abolishing capitalism, or the economic chaos will create the conditions for the bourgeoisie to come back to power and attempt to smash the revolution.
The policy of the Maduro government after the April election was one of attacking the opposition in the political arena, while at the same time attempting to reach a deal with the capitalists in the economic sphere. Concessions were offered to private businesses regarding access to hard currency, including liberalisation of price controls, and the idea of creating Special Economic Zones on the model of China was proposed. This was a utopian policy which could not resolve anything. Any concessions made to the ruling class will undermine the social base of the revolution while not solving any of the fundamental economic problems.
In the run up to the December 2013 municipal elections, the government took a different turn, striking blows against the capitalists. These were still within the logic of regulating capitalism, but proved very popular with the working masses and served to rekindle the revolutionary enthusiasm of the rank and file. It was these measures against speculation and overpricing which guaranteed the victory in the municipal elections. Even if the oligarchy manages to come back to power, that will not be the end of the revolution. It could have the salutary effect of radicalising the Bolivarian movement, as happened with the defeat in Spain in October 1934 (the “bienio negro”), which was only a prelude for an even more decisive battle between the classes. No leader of the Bolivarian movement commands the same authority that Chavez had, and therefore criticism of the leadership, the bureaucrats and the reformists by the masses acquires a much sharper and more open character.
The main task remains the building of a revolutionary leadership with roots in the working class vanguard, able to harness the extraordinary energy which the revolutionary masses have shown over 15 years, and direct it towards the taking of power and the abolition of capitalism.
Lenin once wrote about “combustible material in world politics”, and there is no shortage of such material in the world today. The aggressive actions of the imperialist powers give rise to internal opposition and can act as a further radicalising factor. Revolutionary moods can arise not only from economic factors but also from wars, terrorist acts, natural disasters and events on a world scale. We saw that in the past over the Vietnam War, and the same thing can happen again.
The revelations of Wikileaks and Snowden have exposed the real opinions, motives and interests of US imperialism, tearing away the smiling mask of diplomacy to reveal the ugly face of cynical self-interest. They have also exposed the inability of the US to keep other regimes' secrets. They have shown the extent to which the US is spying on its allies. And they have revealed before the public opinion of the world the real nature of bourgeois diplomacy in general. In so doing they have provided an important service to the international working class.
The fall of the USSR just over twenty years ago led to a major shift in world relations. The USA was now the only global super power. With colossal power came colossal arrogance, as expressed most clearly in the so-called Bush Doctrine. US imperialism proclaimed its right to intervene in any country, to depose governments and dictate its will everywhere. But two decades later these delusions of grandeur are somewhat dented.
The rise of China as an economic and military power has fundamentally modified the balance of forces in Asia and the Pacific. The Chinese ruling elite has ambitions to assert its political and military role in line with its growing economic power. This increasingly brings it into conflict with other countries in this important region, in the first place Japan. The conflict over disputed islands is only one manifestation of this. Washington is observing this phenomenon with growing alarm. US imperialism has always regarded the Pacific as a pivotal element in its global strategy. The rise of China thus poses a direct threat to its interests, which can lead to serious conflicts in the future.
Russia is playing a more independent role in world relations than in the past. Having suffered humiliation in Yugoslavia and Iraq (both previously Russian spheres of influence), Russia is no longer prepared to accept the impositions of US imperialism on a world scale. This was shown by its actions in Georgia, which the USA was attempting to draw into its orbit. Russia used its armed power in 2008 to give Georgia a bloody nose and prevent it from joining NATO. In Syria, Moscow drew another line in the sand, which the Americans dared not cross.
However, that it is not because of Russia’s strength, but because of the relative weakness and paralysis of US imperialism. In the last ten years, the US imperialists have behaved like an elephant in a china shop. As a result they have almost no reliable allies anywhere. The invasion of Iraq has been a disaster. Bush’s intention was to show America’s power. But the Iraq adventure backfired badly, further destabilising what was already a highly volatile region. By destroying the Iraqi army, he caused chaos in Iraq and tilted power in the region towards Iran.
All this has caused a sea-change in public opinion in the USA. After the evident failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American public is tired of foreign military adventures, and a mood recalling the old American isolationism is beginning to resurface in Congress and in the population. As a result, Obama was unable to carry out his declared intention of bombing Syria. In a pathetic speech, in which he contradicted himself in every other sentence, Obama said that the USA could no longer do what it liked in the world.
The Middle East is now a seething caldron of instability. This has been exacerbated by the clumsy and short-sighted policy of US imperialism. The growth of Iranian power in the region has unnerved Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has had to resign itself to the idea that Tehran now has a commanding influence over large parts of Iraq. The chaos in Iraq has given rise to a bloody sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shias with daily terrorist bombings and massacres. The Saudi royals fear that power may be slipping from their grasp. These fears were underlined by the mass uprising in Bahrain in 2011.
In the Middle East we see the limits of US power. The manifest weakness of US imperialism has caused the traditional allies of the US in the Middle East to follow their own interests to a far greater extent than in the past. In several instances this has led to a clash of interests and open defiance of the US. This was shown by the Saudi promise to make up for any cut in US aid to the Egyptian army. The Saudis were upset by the removal of Mubarak in Egypt, who was a reliable ally. Washington managed to offend the Egyptian armed forces by reducing military aid following the overthrow of Morsi.
The Qatari ruling clique poured $8bn of financial support into Egypt, and was the main Gulf backer of the Morsi government. They were betting that the vacuum left by ousted Arab autocracies would be filled by the Islamists, and they were hoping to harness them in order to boost Qatar’s position in the region.
Qatar has burnt its fingers in Libya, then Syria, and also lost billions of dollars in Egypt. That money was meant to buy political advantage, but they backed the wrong horse. The United Arab Emirates and the Saudis will step in to help keep the Egyptian economy afloat. All this resembles the wars between rival “families” of the Mafiosi, which is what all these pampered, oil-rich royal gangsters really are.
What began as a popular uprising against the Baathist regime in Syria has degenerated into a sectarian civil war. The Saudi and Qatari ruling cliques intervened in order to crush the revolutionary elements and divert the struggle along sectarian lines.
Washington wanted to base itself on the bourgeois “democratic” elements of the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) but has been completely outmanoeuvred by the Saudis and Qataris who have armed and supported the jihadi militias. However, the Saudis and Qataris are supporting different wings of the Syrian militias. The Saudis are leaning on the salafists and non-jihadist elements to try and undermine the predominance on the ground of Jabhat al-Nusra and al-Qaeda.
The Istanbul-based Western-backed National Coalition was formed in November 2012, and is recognised by more than 100 countries as a “legitimate” representative of the Syrian opposition. The USA and the EU would like to base themselves on the “moderate” bourgeois elements in the opposition. But they have come up against an insurmountable problem. The NC was publicly dismissed by eleven Islamist militias, including some that are formally part of the FSA, stating that they do not recognise it.
It is well-known that the jihadi militias do most of the fighting, and they are not willing to subordinate themselves to the NC. The result has been fighting between different opposition groups and a further fragmentation of the opposition. Taking advantage of the weakening of the central power, the Kurds are now virtually independent in the Northeast, which means there are now two more or less independent Kurdish states in the region. This adds to the instability and will encourage Kurdish separatist sentiment in both Turkey and Iran.
The reactionary Islamist elements now have complete control of the armed rebellion. Now there is open fighting between the jihadists and the FSA, and between the jihadists and the Kurds. There are also a number of militias fighting on the side of the government that are outside Assad’s control. Syria is now heading in the same catastrophic direction as Iraq or Afghanistan, with local warlords seizing power locally. The country is disintegrating before our eyes. What we now have in Syria is counterrevolution on both sides.
The two sides had fought each other to a bloody stalemate but the intervention of Hezbollah and the Iranians changed the balance of forces in the government’s favour in the summer of 2013. The Americans were looking for an excuse to intervene in Syria to rectify the situation, but the weakness of US imperialism was shown by the fact that Obama could not even get a vote to bomb Syria through Congress. As a result, he was completely outmanoeuvred by the Russians, who seized the diplomatic initiative when John Kerry made what was probably an off-the-cuff remark to the effect that Syria could avoid being attacked if it gave up its chemical weapons.
The issue of chemical weapons shows the nauseating hypocrisy of the imperialists. Let us leave aside the fact that the USA itself holds the biggest stocks of chemical weapons in the world and that they used chemical weapons like Agent Orange extensively against the people of Vietnam, as well as things like napalm. More recently they used white phosphorous bombs in the bombing of Fallujah, provoking horrific consequences for the population. They had no objection to the use of chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein when they were used against Iranian soldiers in the war between Iran and Iraq.
It is patently obvious that the question of chemical weapons was used as an excuse to attack Syria because the government forces, aided by Iran and Hezbollah, were inflicting heavy defeats on the rebels. The intention of Washington was to deal a blow against Syria’s armed forces that would aid the rebels. That was not intended to allow the latter to win a military victory, but only to restore a certain equilibrium between the two sides in order to allow room for diplomatic manoeuvring. The interests of the unfortunate people of Syria and humanitarian considerations were very far from their minds.
This manoeuvre was cut across by the offer of the Syrian regime (prompted by Moscow) to hand over its entire chemical arsenal. This act had no practical effect on the military capacity of the Syrian regime, which has used conventional weapons very effectively to slaughter its enemies for the entire war. Having effectively outwitted the Americans on the issue of chemical weapons, Assad has launched a major offensive against the rebels, inflicting heavy defeats on them. However, it seems doubtful whether either side has enough strength to win a decisive military victory.
The Russians and Americans are manoeuvring with the other regional powers to organize some kind of “peace conference” in Geneva. But even if this is held, the results will not serve the interests of the people of Syria. On the one side, the Saudis and Qataris are backing the forces of black jihadi reaction. The Americans’ only interest is to maintain their control of the region and resist the rise of Iranian influence. The Russians are likewise only concerned with maintaining their hold on Syria, a traditional ally. Until now they have backed Assad, but they would be quite prepared to sacrifice him, on condition that their basic interests in Syria were protected. After the debacle in Iraq, both the Russians and Americans (and their “democratic” European allies) agree that the Syrian state must be maintained in the interest of upholding “law and order”.
The military stalemate provides an opportunity for the outside powers to intensify their search for a “negotiated settlement”. The partial thaw in relations between Washington and Tehran may open the way to Iran’s participation in the Geneva peace conference. This prospect has been greeted by jubilation in Damascus and Tehran, and by fury in Israel and Saudi Arabia.
What the ordinary people in Syria think about all this is not known. They will not be present in Geneva, and their opinions are not a matter of any interest to any of the powers involved. The only way out of the mess in Syria is the victory of the socialist revolution in a key country in the region, which would dramatically alter the class balance of forces. The future of Syria now depends on events beyond its frontiers: i.e., on revolutionary developments in Turkey, Iran and above all, in Egypt.
The Egyptian Revolution
The magnificent Arab Revolution, which has not yet finished, unleashed the colossal power of millions—what the bourgeois press calls “the Arab street”. This was a turning point in world history. Events in the Middle East will have profound effects both economic and political. Egypt is the key country in the Arab world. What happens there always has a knock-on effect on the entire Arab world and throughout the entire region. The Revolution entered a new stage with the mass upsurge that overthrew Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The mass revolutionary movement that overthrew Morsi brought 17 million people onto the streets of Egypt. A movement of such dimensions has no parallel in history. In reality, power was in the hands of the masses in June 2013, but they did not realise this, and there was nobody to explain it to them. The central problem is easily stated: the masses were strong enough to overthrow the government, but they were not sufficiently organized and conscious to take the power that they effectively held in their hands. As a result, the opportunity was missed and the army chiefs were able to step in to fill the vacuum.
The actions of the army were roughly analogous to the actions of Napoleon on 5 October, 1795, when he dispersed a Royalist mob on the streets of Paris with a “whiff of grapeshot”. Then, as now, the reactionaries stirred up a movement on the streets which, had it succeeded, would have signified the victory of the counterrevolution. In Egypt, the masses demonstrated their enthusiastic support for the repression of the Brotherhood, which they correctly saw as the forces of black reaction. But this historical analogy has its limits. Napoleon could succeed in imposing his counterrevolutionary dictatorship only because the revolutionary masses had exhausted themselves. In Egypt, on the contrary, the Revolution has considerable reserves, which assert themselves at every decisive stage.
The strength of the Revolution was shown by the weakness of the Brotherhood and its inability to organize an effective response to the defeat of Morsi. Only in Cairo and Alexandria were they able to call big demonstrations, and even there, only in the more affluent and middle-class suburbs. Everywhere else they were met with the fierce opposition of the revolutionary masses, who kicked them out of one neighbourhood after another. Finally, they were easily dispersed and crushed by the army.
In the absence of a genuine revolutionary Marxist party, the army chiefs were able to manoeuvre, Bonapartist-style, leaning on the masses to strike blows against the Muslim Brotherhood, the next day arresting workers’ leaders and aborting strikes.
The revolution is a vast school for the masses who can only learn from experience. The second revolution was on a far higher level than the first. Gone was all the softness and naivety represented in the slogans of “we are all Egyptians”, and instead, there was a hard and uncompromising revolutionary will which meant that the whole process took only a fraction of the time necessary for the 18 days of revolution in 2011. But the handing over of power to the SCAF meant handing back power to the same old ruling class, albeit a different part of it than the one Morsi represented. This means that the masses will have to go through another hard earned lesson.
It is true that Al-Sisi is a counter-revolutionary, just as the Bonapartist Kerensky was in Russia after the February Revolution. But he is much more clever than Morsi. The counterrevolutionary nature of Morsi was clear, but Al-Sisi's role is not yet clear in the eyes of the masses, who see him as their ally. They see the crackdowns of the army against the Brotherhood as a revolutionary act. That is why they were prepared to give Al-Sisi time, but the patience of the masses will not last indefinitely. Already, the Biblawi government, which was appointed by Al-Sisi, is very unpopular.
After the elections for parliament and for the presidency, criticism of the government will grow and the contradictions between the revolution and the new rulers will become ever clearer. The bottom line is the economic crisis, which has caused mass unemployment and poverty. The question of prices and jobs continue to be unresolved. If Al-Sisi stands in the next election, he may be elected with a big majority. But once in power, he will be expected to deliver the things the workers, peasants and unemployed want: jobs, bread and houses. But on a capitalist basis, this is not possible. The stage will be set for a new and stormy period of revolutionary upheavals.
New, fresh layers are coming into the struggle all the time. The older, tired layers—including some who played a leading role in the earlier stages—will tend to drop away, disappointed and disoriented by events which they did not foresee and which they do not understand. They constantly complain about the alleged “low level” of the masses. But it is they who commit the grievous crime of confusing revolution with counterrevolution.
Those misguided “Leftists”, who echo the propaganda of the bourgeois and the imperialists, and who dismiss the magnificent mass movement that toppled Morsi as a “coup”, have understood nothing. The movement last June was in effect the Second Egyptian Revolution. The masses who overthrew the hated regime of the reactionary Muslim Brothers got a sense of their own collective power, which they have not lost, and which will provide the basis for a new revolutionary offensive in the coming period. We must turn our backs on the old, demoralised elements and face to the youth, the new generation of fighters who represent the revolutionary future.
The election of Rouhani marked the beginnings of a change in the situation. The elections were a clear sign that the regime could not continue its previous course. The 2009 mass movement was suppressed violently and kept down by a constant increase in internal pressure and removal of democratic rights. The crisis of the regime was reflected in the open conflict between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei. The economy was in a deep crisis, greatly magnified by the imposition of sanctions by the US and the EU. Unemployment, which was already high, reached new levels. The collapse of the rial meant that inflation rates soared above 100 per cent. Industry, production and trade were grinding to a halt.
Millions of workers had to cope with the explosion of prices, while they had either been sacked or had not received wages for months. For the middle classes it was no less disastrous. Families who had been used to relatively stable lives found themselves bankrupted overnight, their savings devalued and their businesses ruined.
The presidential elections were supposed to have been planned and non-controversial. But during the campaign the different candidates, who had been vetted thoroughly, attacked each other violently. The open split in the ruling class enabled the masses to force themselves onto the scene.
Hassan Rouhani's campaign meetings served as a focal point for mobilization. The entrance of the masses upset all of the plans of the ruling clique. The Mullahs were forced to change course. Rouhani represents a wing of the regime that is arguing for reforms from the top to prevent revolution from below. As a result, the regime has been forced to take some limited steps to ease the pressure, especially on the youth and the middle class. This is the reason why there are at present massive illusions in Rouhani. But with the easing of the democratic problems the economic ones will come to the fore.
The regime is trying to reach a deal with the Americans, in order to open up the market and also win some concessions, especially in the weakened oil infrastructure. Such a deal, if it is concluded, will not change the general situation of the masses. The only way for the Iranian bourgeoisie to get out of their crisis is through increased exploitation of the workers. But this will only pour oil on the flames. Every step of opening up the atmosphere will only fuel the self-organisation of the workers and the youth and will prepare for big revolutionary explosions in the future.
This “opening” provides new opportunities for the opposition and the Left. Some opposition (and even some leftist) newspapers have begun to appear. Gradually the forces of the opposition are beginning to re-emerge. The youth is open to socialist and revolutionary ideas. It is true that there are illusions in Rouhani, but these will not long survive the acid test of experience. The masses will have to go through the school of bourgeois democracy in order to draw the necessary conclusions, but draw them they will.
To be continued »