The world economy teeters on the brink and the global capitalist system has entered its deepest crisis since the 1930s. Governments around the world are scrambling to stabilize the economy, but by doing so they are disrupting the already fragile social and political equilibrium.
Instability spreads from country to country and region to region, from the Middle East, to Greece and the European debt crisis, to the stock market crash in China. The more serious bourgeois analysts are the first to admit the significance and depth of the current crisis. This past June, The Economist magazine declared that the rich countries of the world were unprepared for the next recession. Chief Economist of HSBC, Stephen King, hinting at the coming intensification of the class struggle, recently explained that,"The world economy is like an ocean liner without lifeboats. If another recession hits, it could be a truly titanic struggle for policymakers". The OECD perspective is that global GDP growth will stagnate and slow over the next 50 years. This is what working people and youth have to look forward to - another 50 years of crisis and austerity and the utter decay of capitalist society.
Canada is not immune to the crisis and is actually the first major capitalist power to enter recession this time around. With the price of oil falling to its lowest level in over a decade, combined with the continued slump in manufacturing and a housing bubble which by all estimates is on the verge of bursting, it has become clear that a deep crisis now looms for Canada. Housing in Canada is some of the most expensive in the world, household debt stands at record levels and unemployment is on the rise. Government after government, whether provincial or federal, implement savage cuts and offer nothing but austerity and increasing misery. The capitalists can no longer afford the reforms of the past and certainly cannot afford new ones. Yet the working class and youth cannot afford any further cuts and attacks on living and working conditions. This puts class struggle on the order of the day.
The youth are amongst the first to feel the effects of the crisis. They can see and feel it everywhere - at school, at home and at work. With low-wage jobs, student debt and decades of cuts to social spending the youth of today are some of the first generations since the Second World War who face lower living standards than that of previous generations. The youth do not know the gains of the past and see before them only austerity, misery and social decay.
Youth unemployment in Canada hovers at around 13 per cent and is nearly double that of the general unemployment rate. This figure does not include those who have given up looking for a job, are working unpaid internships, or those who are underemployed, of which there is a huge number. The number of unpaid internships skyrocketed in the years following the 2008 recession, with some organizations estimating that there are as many as 300,000 people, mostly young college and university graduates, currently working for free at some of the biggest and wealthiest corporations. In addition to dismal employment prospects, youth are faced with skyrocketing tuition fees and costs of living, unaffordable housing, and crippling debt. The average Canadian student debt is approximately $27,000. Those that do find work following their studies find low pay and poor conditions. Many unionized work places have introduced two-tier wage and benefit systems. Everywhere they go the youth find they are preyed upon and exploited. They are on the bottom rung and don't see any way forward. Capitalism offers today’s youth a bleak future.
The crisis of reformism
In the period that followed the Second World War, there was an unprecedented boom that lasted for decades. This allowed reformist governments to introduce many significant reforms under pressure from the working class. But that period is long gone. In fact, the post-war boom was a historical anomaly which was only possible due the destruction of WWII and the following reconstruction. The conditions today are not that of an unprecedented boom, but of precisely the opposite. The current crisis of capitalism is so deep that the bourgeoisie cannot even tolerate the continuation of the conquests from the past period, let alone permit new reforms. This means that anyone basing themselves on the idea that certain reforms can be won and sustained, is gravely mistaken. The crisis of capitalism leads directly to a crisis of reformism.
Some on the left believe that austerity is merely a question of ideology, that the question of cuts and attacks on wages and living conditions is the result only of the choices of various political parties and the personal makeup of their leaders. It is argued that austerity is not necessary and that it can be replaced by so-called progressive measures in favour of working people and youth rather than policies in favour of the corporations and the rich. But on the basis of capitalism, austerity is inevitable. As Marxists, we are fully in favour of any reform that improves the living and working conditions of the working class and the oppressed. The fundamental problem is that these reforms are untenable under capitalism. History and recent events around the world have shown, that even governments elected on an explicitly reformist program, if they are not prepared to go beyond the limits of capitalism, are inevitably forced to betray their program and implement austerity. Betrayal is inherent to reformism.
In periods of economic crisis, such as the one we have now entered, the various political tendencies are each put to the test. The masses will test the different political parties and reject those that do not provide a solution to the crisis. The current crisis shows the working class and youth the importance of arming the movement with the ideas, methods and political program that can lead to victory and provide a genuine alternative to austerity and cuts.
The example of recent events in Greece is very revealing in this regard. Syriza, the anti-austerity party that grouped various forces on the left, was elected last January on the basis of a program that promised to improve the living conditions of the Greek masses after 5-years of brutal austerity measures.
Tsipras and the party leadership believed they would be able to negotiate with European creditors, but the bankers had other ideas. The European capitalists and their representatives did all they could to discredit and crush Syriza. They feared, and rightly so, that Syriza could set an example for other anti-austerity parties in Spain and elsewhere. They wanted to make an example of Syriza as a warning to workers and youth in other countries not to take the road of struggle. A majority of Greeks voted "no" in the referendum on the question of the implementation of the new Memorandum. The referendum mobilized the masses behind the government and showed that the Greek people rejected austerity and were prepared to struggle against it. Despite the willingness of the overwhelming majority to fight, Tsipras saw the referendum results merely as "leverage" to get a better deal and gain concessions. In the end, the deal agreed to was even worse than the one the Greek people had resoundingly rejected! Now the government elected to oppose austerity is preparing to carry out savage cuts and implement the harshest austerity policies yet. This is because at the end of the day, it is the bankers and bosses who control the wealth in society and have the final say – there is no negotiating a better deal from the capitalists!
Tsipras betrayed his political program because he was unwilling to go beyond the limits of capitalism. Tsipras and the Syriza leadership were no doubt sincere in their desire to fight austerity. But good intentions are not enough; the working class and youth require the ideas and program that can ultimately lead to victory. Tsipras has said that he did not have a choice and that he was forced to implement that latest agreement. Yet, there was an alternative - bold socialist measures and an appeal to the masses in Greece and Europe to defend these measures actively. Unfortunately, Tsipras is not a revolutionary but a reformist. He therefore was forced to accept what European capitalism had to offer to the Greek people: further brutal austerity measures. Reformists of all stripes have no confidence in the working class and don't believe that the workers can change and run society. From the reformist perspective, the capitalist system is the norm, the limits of which cannot be passed. However, any attempt to reform the system reveals a hard truth - when they attempt to manage capitalism we see that it is they who are in the end managed by it.
Undoubtedly, in the event that a party with a reformist program is elected to government in Canada, we would be faced with a similar situation. Earlier this year, we saw the historic victory of the NDP in Alberta, overturning nearly 44 years of Conservative rule. But faced with the low price of oil and a massive $5.4 billion deficit, the leadership of the party has already started to make concessions, talking about belt-tightening (see austerity) in the face of the growing economic crisis. Federally, the NDP is well positioned to win the upcoming election. But with recession and crisis on the horizon the entire NDP program is in question. The future of Canada can be seen in countries like Spain and Greece and we must learn the political lessons from events there. Social democracy in these countries is extremely unpopular due to the fact that they ended up accepting the logic of capitalism and implemented deep cuts to social spending.
For a revolutionary program!
Due to the crisis of capitalism, the ruling class and its political representatives have far less room to maneuver than in the past. This partially explains why it is often difficult to distinguish between the political programs of the various political parties. Governments, no matter the party in power, are bound hand and foot to the policies of the bankers and the bosses - therefore there is only a narrow range of policies that are possible. You can’t control what you don’t own and under capitalism the enormous wealth and resources in society are in the hands of the capitalists who are only concerned with their own profit.
It is easy to understand why voter turnout continues to decline. There is immense disillusionment with the political establishment and in political parties in general. The system has become so corrupt and decadent that there is a seemingly unbridgeable gulf that separates the political representatives of the country from the real needs and interests of the masses. Nobody in parliament speaks to the real needs and pressing issues facing workers and youth.
But what is to be done?
Some on the left, in a desperate search for new ideas, have rejected Marxism as "obsolete" and "out-dated". Yet, recent events have starkly shown us that the ideas of Marx and Engels have never been more relevant than they are today. Most of their fundamental predictions – the intense concentration of wealth, the development of world trade and the world economy, the development of monopolies, the inevitability of crises - have proven remarkably accurate. Since the crisis of 2008 many bourgeois analysts and economists have been forced to admit that, "Marx was right after all".
The ideas of Marxism can explain the crisis of capitalism and offer the methods for struggle and a real alternative to austerity and the rotten capitalist system. Marxism explains that austerity is not simply a question of ideology, a result of the choices or free will of the political parties and their leadership. Austerity is a consequence and component part of the crisis of capitalism, and is required by the system. We cannot defeat austerity if we do not fight the system itself. A revolution is needed if we truly want to defeat this agenda and preserve and extend the gains of the past.
But it is not enough to fight against what we do not want. We need to fight for a new way of running society, a new system, that is, socialism. Socialism is the conscious organization of society and production for the benefit of humanity instead of for greed and private profit. By placing the means of production and wealth in society under democratic workers’ control based on a national plan of production, it would be possible to provide everyone with employment, education, housing, health and dental care, child care, transportation, access to culture and art and a say in the running of society. A better world is possible!
Build the International Marxist Tendency
The struggle against austerity is not only happening in Canada. Intense struggles are taking place in Europe, especially in countries like Greece and Spain. The rise of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party leadership race reflects the deep discontent and anger amongst workers and youth in Britain. We have also seen this mood express itself in the United States with the mass movement against racism and police killings as well as with the popularity of “socialist” presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Workers, students and activists around the world are standing up and entering into struggle against austerity and the capitalist system. In 2011 workers and youth around the world were inspired by the revolutionary wave that swept across the Middle East starting in Tunisia and spreading to Egypt. We must build a revolutionary organization in order to take these struggles forward and unite them in the fight for international socialism.
The International Marxist Tendency is building an organization for this purpose. The IMT unites revolutionary activists who defend the program and ideas of Marxism not just in Canada, but around the world. An injury to one is an injury to all. A victory for the struggle of the oppressed in any country serves as an inspiration for workers and youth struggling in Canada. Capitalism long ago conquered the globe and our struggle against the system therefore must be international or it is nothing.
The current crisis of capitalism confirms the prophetic words of Rosa Luxemburg: “socialism or barbarism.” We are fully confident that socialism will triumph over barbarism. However, this victory will not be possible unless the workers and youth build a revolutionary party that can unite the struggle across borders, an organization that has learned the lessons of the past and can lead the struggle against capitalism to victory.
This is the organization that our tendency is building. We appeal to all those who agree with our ideas and who want to fight against capitalism to join the International Marxist Tendency. We must get organized to finally do away with this society of exploitation, war and misery once and for all.