Alan Woods on world perspectives 2008 – Part Two

The second part of the transcript of Alan Woods' speech on the world political and economic perspectives for year 2008 at a meeting of the leadership of the International Marxist Tendency on January 13, 2008. You can also listen to the speech here.

It is easy to have sterile discussions on economics, but the point for us is the effect this has on the class struggle. Yes, there's been an increase in world trade and growth, but at the same time there has been a tremendous intensification of pressure on the working class. This has led to explosions of class war, even during the best period from a capitalist point of view.

A formalist might ask why in places like Latin America, where the economy has grown so much, the living standards of the masses are not improving: the answer is that the economies of Lain America grew precisely because the living standards have been stagnating!

The level of exploitation and merciless pressure on the workers is shown by Japan. There's a new term in Japanese: "karoshi" - death from overwork. I recently read a report about a man in Japan who collapsed and died after working 80 hours in a row. Companies are even taken to court for this. In 1998 only 4% of karoshi cases were won. In 2005, 40% were accepted!

Lots of people in the Western countries are accumulating dozens of hours of overtime (often unpaid). 1,780 hours overtime per person per year is Japan's average. In the USA it's 1,800, in Germany 1,400. The tendency toward casualisation and part-time work is very strong.

Now the economy is stalling. The Christmas sales in Britain were dismal. In Germany, growth is expected to fall from 2.6% to 2%, but some are predicting even lower figures like 1.1% in 2008. In France, Sarkozy thinks he can attack the workers but they immediately reacted and his popularity has already fallen by 17%. In Italy, there was the marvellous demonstration of half a million workers in Rome, in little Denmark there was a demonstration of 100,000 against cuts, which is even bigger in proportion to the size of population. There was a general strike in Greece last month, and even big strikes in Switzerland. 

What is the reason for this? Even during a boom, the capitalists can't accept the maintenance of concessions made in past, let alone any new reforms. In all countries, pensions are under attack, in Mexico for example, where we had a revolutionary situation just 18 months ago.

We alone understood the Mexican situation. Is the PRD a bourgeois party? Maybe, but 3 million workers and peasants marching for Lopez Obrador and against the electoral fraud were not bourgeois! Mexico will be the country most affected by the US economic crisis. Entire areas in Mexico depend on money sent back by immigrants who are also under attack, and are being deported.

It's difficult to build a Marxist group in the heat of a revolution. But in Pakistan and Mexico we had cadre organisations before the real start of big events.

Future events will have a big effect on mass organisations. But there is a major problem. It is not a problem of the working class, but a problem of leadership. The mass organisations created to transform society have now been transformed into monstrous obstacles. They put forward pro-bourgeois policies. In the past, at least in words they stood for socialism and communism - at least on May Day. Now they are so degenerated that in Italy the DS (the former Communist Party!) has fused with other bourgeois parties to form a bourgeois party.

Italy is the sick man of Europe. The reason why the bourgeoisie pushed Veltroni into forming this new party, the Democratic Party, is because they have no party to rely upon. What are its chances? The bourgeois will launch a massive media campaign for the new party. That will have an effect. Veltroni will be very popular in the beginning and the vote for Rifondazione Comunista will be sharply reduced, but the reason for the bourgeois to have Veltroni in power is to have him implement a policy of deep cuts. This will cause an explosion of struggle and a ferment within the trade unions as well as RC later on. The Italian Marxists will have important opportunities, as long as we hold a firm position and we don't vacillate.

The mass organisations do not exist in a vacuum; they are affected by the world around them. The sectarians reject these parties, and try to form new parties. But they never succeeded. With the shift to the right of all these parties, it would have been the ideal time to form an alternative to the British Labour Party for example. But they had no luck. All their attempts have failed dismally.

The masses will inevitably move through their traditional organizations. Where are the masses at present in Britain? They are not active anywhere, not in the LP, and not anywhere else either. They're at home watching the TV, struggling to make ends meet. But this will not last: they will move into action and when they move, they will move through the traditional mass organizations: in Britain that means the trade unions and the Labour Party. As things heat up and the Labour Party is reactivated, we will begin to get an echo. In Italy, we will be able to make big gains in Rifondazione Comunista.

In Spain, there's been a terrific polarization. The economy has been doing very well, so the process has been delayed a bit, but the right wing and the Church are now using the language they used in the 1930's. We have a strong Spanish organisation with roots in the working class, and a base in the youth - which is the key everywhere.

The United States remains a key country. George W. Bush was liked by the US bourgeois at first, because he's an accurate reflection of themselves: ignorant, provincial, narrow-minded, arrogant... But he has gone on dangerous adventures. Now they want a more reliable representative.

Generally the US politics has nothing of substance, but the primaries are interesting for what they reveal about the underlying currents in US society. The phenomenon of Obama is explained by a general feeling of the need for change, although if he were elected he would be the worst of all. When ordinary people were asked why they backed Obama they said: because we are looking for a change.

I expect a Democrat, probably Hillary Clinton, to win. But the next president will come to power in period of crisis. Three-quarters of US citizens think that the USA is on the wrong track. The Democrat-led Congress is very unpopular - the Democrats have done nothing.

All of this will produce serious consequences. The American dream is finished. Living standards are falling across the board. This is the first generation that cannot expect better living standard than the previous one. Everything (Iraq war, scandals, etc.) has an effect. At a certain stage the need for a labour party will become apparent.

To all this, we must add Iraq. "I hate Iraq; I wish we had never gone there". Who do you think said that? No, it was not Bush, it was Winston Churchill, in 1926 when the British imperialists faced similar problems. The US imperialists have solved nothing by the invasion of Iraq, and they have destabilized the entire Middle East as well. They have behaved like an elephant in a china shop.

How longer can the USA stay in Iraq? Bush's idea of a surge is crazy and the ruling class knows that. It tried to politely warn him with responsible advice from the Iraq Study Group, which was the true voice of the Establishment. They told him: "Look, we have lost! We must gradually extricate ourselves from there and reach a deal with Iran and Syria."

Now, in the circumstances this was not bad advice. But what does Bush do? He threatens Iran and goes to the point of accusing the Syrians of interfering in the internal affairs of other states! He sends more troops to Iraq. He then says he is going to solve the Palestinian problem by establishing a separate state. He can get up to such nonsense because he's at the end of his presidency. By the way, the USA has destroyed the Iraqi army - the only counter-weight to the Iranian army in the Gulf area.

We do not have a sentimental attitude towards war. War is a terrible thing but it can have revolutionary consequences. We see the beginnings of a movement of the working class in the region: big strikes in Egypt, strikes in Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, and Israel itself. But the lack of a revolutionary leadership is the main feature of the present impasse in the Middle East. In the past the Stalinists had a strong base in the region and their betrayals largely responsible for current situation.

And we cannot stress enough the importance of the situation in Iran. The regime is split. Ahmadinedjad tried to bolster himself by basing himself on the clash with the US, and its threats to attack Iran. But now a CIA report has been leaked, stating that Iran has no nuclear capability. Who do you think leaked it to the journalists? The US ruling class is trying to prevent another adventure like the WMD farce staged by the neo-conservative clique to justify the invasion of Iraq. The Americans can't launch a strike now. Israel could, but it's facing class struggle too and it remains to be seen whether they will act.

Iran is ripe for revolution. There we have all the conditions listed by Lenin for a revolution: splits at the top, ferment among the middle class, a powerful working class with revolutionary traditions, waves of important strikes, etc. The only factor missing so far is the subjective factor - the revolutionary party. The work of our Iranian comrades is of great importance to the IMT. We must give them assistance.

The situation in Iran is very similar to pre-1905 Russia. Once the Iranian masses start to move, look out. The coming revolution can take different paths but there is one thing we can be sure of: it's not going to be a fundamentalist uprising! 28 years of the mullahs in power have totally discredited them among the masses and youth. The majority of the population is young and fresh; they will be open to revolutionary ideas and Marxism. The Iranian revolution will change the entire situation in the Middle East, showing that genuine anti-imperialism needn't be fundamentalist. It will have an impact on the whole region.

We have dealt with Latin America at some length in our document on world perspectives and we will have a separate session on Venezuela. Latin America remains at the cutting edge of world revolution - and counter-revolution. There's not just Venezuela but Bolivia too. Morales is piddling around with parliament, laws, constitutions, etc. He suffers from a disease called "parliamentary cretinism". This can pave the way for the defeat of the movement. We have the beginnings of a Marxist group in Bolivia, but time is not on our side. Nor is it in Venezuela.

The situation in Venezuela shows the role of the subjective factor. In the 1930's, Trotsky said that the Spanish proletariat was capable of making, not one revolution but ten revolutions. The same applies to Venezuela - the heroism of Venezuelan masses has no precedent in history. Those masses have been in ferment for 10 years, defeating the counter-revolution several times. But there is a limit. You cannot maintain millions in state of agitation forever without showing a way out.

The masses voted overwhelmingly for Chávez in December 2006, and they were voting for a change. But, apart from some nationalisation, which we supported there has not been any fundamental changes yet. With the best intentions in the world, Chávez can lead the revolution to defeat. We must not get "starry-eyed" about it. We can't permit ourselves to be romantic - Revolution is serious business.

The Bolivarian movement is heterogeneous; the leadership consisted of petty-bourgeois revolutionary democrats in the beginning, and there are deep contradictions in its composition and ideas. But it is a mass movement and we must intervene in it and orient to it - but without hiding our ideas or watering down our programme.

People can change. Ted grant always pointed to the case of Largo Caballero in the Spanish Revolution in the 1930's: he was in many ways an honest left reformist who was trying to move towards Marxism. Ted insisted that if the Spanish Trotskyists had behaved correctly, they could probably have won him over. But they behaved like irresponsible ultra left sectarians. They refused to enter the Spanish Young Socialists when they were invited to do so, and therefore delivered this mass organization into the hands of the Stalinists. That was the main reason for the defeat of the Spanish Revolution.

Trotsky called this a betrayal and he was quite right. He broke off all relations with Andreu Nin as a result. What would he say now about the conduct of Orlando Chirinos and the Venezuelan ultra lefts? Chávez is honest and courageous. He would like to introduce socialism, but he doesn't know how to do it. And history shows that sometimes an honest man with incorrect policies can play an even worse role than an open opportunist.

Chávez has no real party, and bureaucrats, Stalinists and reformists of the worst kind surround him, exercising a negative influence, as happened after the referendum defeat,. This was a minor defeat. But Chávez also suffers from parliamentary illusions, imagining that everything must be done "legally by the book." Therefore, instead of offering the masses fundamental changes, he offered yet another referendum. But there are elements of tiredness now among the masses.

However, the process is far from finished. Chávez can switch back and forth from day to day, depending on last person he spoke to, or last book he read. Once it may be Trotsky and the next day something by Chomsky and the cables get crossed.  Last week he said revolution needs to slow down, now he says need to expropriate those engaged in speculation!

We must direct all our fire against the reformist wing and the bureaucracy. My new book on Venezuela will be directed against Heinz Dieterich, the main theoretician of reformism. He speaks of the "political Centre". But there is no Centre in Venezuela! There is tremendous polarization to the right and left. That is the reality, and the revolution is reaching a critical stage.

It's very difficult to discuss the whole of World Perspectives these days. Revolutionary fronts are opening worldwide, too much to deal with in the time we have. I have just touched superficially on a few things. But we are in a marvellous position around the world: in Mexico, Venezuela, Pakistan, and other countries, because we are in the right place at the right time.

We are not discussing the Venezuelan, Pakistani, or Iranian revolution - we are discussing the world revolution. The capitalist system is in crisis - globalization manifests itself in a world crisis of capitalism. It is one single process. The Marxists, which are the general staff of the world revolution, must grasp the global scope of this process.

We will have a very good year ahead of us, and a remarkable world congress, which will show qualitative and quantitative development. But we must ensure that in the turbulent period that we have entered, a period of war, revolution and counter-revolution, one thing is all-important - we must have the forces, the "troops on the ground" or we will miss important possibilities. There will be no shortage of possibilities. But we need the numbers. If there is one thing that we should focus on above all, it is growth, recruitment, winning new comrades, educating cadres, and gathering the forces we need to build a genuinely mass Trotskyist international.

January 13, 2008
Nieuwpoort (Belgium)

See also: