The following document was passed at a meeting of the international leadership of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) at the start of February, for discussion at the coming 2023 IMT World Congress. In it, the main trends are analysed that are shaping world politics and the class struggle in this dramatic period of capitalism’s death agony.
We are living in a dramatic period in world history. In many ways it is really unique. The strategists of Capital are well aware of this. As usual, the more astute ones come to similar conclusions to those of the Marxists, although with some delay and with no real understanding of the nature of the problems that they describe, let alone solutions.
A good example of this is Larry Summers, an American economist who served as the 71st United States Secretary of the Treasury from 1999 to 2000. He described the state of the world economy as follows:
“I can remember previous moments of equal or even greater gravity for the world economy, but I cannot remember moments when there were as many separate aspects and as many cross-currents as there are right now.
“Look at what is going on in the world: a very significant inflation issue across much of the world, and certainly much of the developed world; a significant monetary tightening under way; a huge energy shock, especially in the European economy, which is both a real shock, obviously, and an inflation shock; growing concern about Chinese policymaking and Chinese economic performance, and indeed also concern about its intentions towards Taiwan; and then, of course, the ongoing war in Ukraine.” (Financial Times, 6 October 2022).
These lines adequately describe the present situation, which has not changed substantially since they were written. Examples may be repeated at will. They accurately reflect the general feeling of pessimism and despair that has gripped the strategists of Capital, who can see the approaching disaster but have no clear idea of how to avoid it.
It would, in fact, be a pointless exercise to look to the bourgeois economists for some kind of explanation for this. They were unable to predict either a slump or a boom. They never understood the past, so why should they understand the present, and still less the future?
In the present situation, a rational insight can only be arrived at by the method of dialectical thinking: the method of Marxism. That gives us a colossal advantage, setting us apart from every other tendency in society. It is what makes us unique. In fact, it is the only thing that gives us any right to exist as a separate and distinct tendency in the labour movement.
On turning points
The present world crisis clearly represents a turning point in the whole situation. But one might say that 2008 was also a turning point. That is quite correct, just as 1973 was: the first world recession since the Second World War.
In fact, there are many situations that may be characterised as turning points, and we can be in danger of making this phrase into something quite meaningless by thoughtless repetition.
And yet the concept is very far from meaningless. On the contrary, it contains a very profound idea. It is really a way of expressing Hegel’s notion of the nodal line of development, in which a series of small (quantitative) changes reaches a critical point, where a qualitative change occurs.
Every turning point has common features with the past, but also has its own peculiarities. What is necessary is to bring out the particularities in the situation and explain the concrete changes that arise from it.
The crisis of 2008 took the hopeless bourgeois economists by surprise. In order to prevent a crash on the lines of 1929, the bourgeois spent huge sums of public money to bail out the banks. They pumped massive amounts of money into the economy. The panic measures they took at the time were necessary to save the system. But they had unforeseen and disastrous consequences.
The policy of so-called quantitative easing ensured that interest rates remained extremely low. But this massive injection of fictitious capital into the system inevitably created a whole number of inflationary pressures.
This, however, did not immediately become evident as a result of the general collapse in demand, including household consumption, business investment, and government spending. Falling wages and rising unemployment strangled demand, which could no longer be offset by credit, since people were already massively in debt.
However, the inflationary pressures expressed themselves in the housing market boom and particularly in a burst of uncontrolled speculation in the stock exchanges, along with phenomena like cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and other speculative swindles.
The limits of globalisation
In order to understand the present situation, it is necessary to base ourselves on the fundamentals. We must always bear in mind the two main obstacles that hinder the full development of the productive forces: on the one hand, private ownership of the means of production and, on the other, the suffocating limits of the national market.
However, the capitalist system is a living organism, which can evolve certain defence mechanisms in order to perpetuate its existence. Marx explains in the third volume of Capital the ways in which the bourgeoisie can combat the tendency for the rate of profit to fall. One of the main ways is by deepening and expanding the market through increasing world trade.
Over 150 years ago, The Communist Manifesto pointed to the crushing domination of the world market. This is now the most important feature of the modern epoch.
The advent of globalisation was an expression of the fact that the growth of the productive forces has outstripped the narrow limits of the nation state. It helped the capitalists to – partially, at least – overcome the limits of the national market for a period.
This tendency was given a powerful impulse by the collapse of the USSR and the entry of China into the arena of the capitalist world market. Other countries, not only the former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe but also India, which had been balancing between the Soviet Union and the USA, also swung into line.
Thus, at a stroke, hundreds of millions of people became enmeshed in the capitalist world economy, opening up new markets and fields of investment.
This (together with an unprecedented expansion of credit) has been one of the most powerful motor forces driving the world economy in recent decades. The dramatic increase in world trade had as its corollary an increase in world GDP.
However, globalisation did not abolish the contradictions of capitalism. It only reproduced them on a far-vaster scale. And now this has clearly reached its limits.
The rapid growth of production was predicated on the even-more rapid expansion of world trade. Now globalisation is clearly stalling and everything has suddenly gone into reverse. And what we are facing are the consequences of this reversal. Global trade will only grow by 1 percent in 2023, according to the World Trade Organisation.
Instead of the free movement of goods and services, we are witnessing a swift descent into economic nationalism. And that is a very alarming parallel with the 1930s. It was precisely the rise of protectionist tendencies, increased tariffs, competitive devaluations and suchlike beggar-my-neighbour policies that were the real cause of the Great Depression. It is not at all excluded that a similar situation can reoccur.
Distortions of the market
In a capitalist market economy, in the last analysis, market forces decide. The actions of governments can distort and delay the market forces, but they can never be eliminated. The truth is that the advanced capitalist economies never recovered from the global financial crisis of 2007-09.
Investment by private firms remained feeble and economic growth was sluggish. On the other hand, inflation was low and central banks held interest rates at unprecedentedly low levels, extending the grip of finance capital over economic life. This provides the key to understanding the present crisis.
On the eve of the pandemic the Federal Reserve, ECB and Bank of Japan held a staggering $15 trillion of financial assets, up from $3.5 trillion in 2008. To this they added another $6 trillion during the pandemic in an attempt to keep the economy afloat.
Much of this was government debt that central banks had bought to keep government borrowing costs down. The level of indebtedness – already quite unsustainable – was enormously increased as governments borrowed vast sums to pay for the crisis measures.
This unprecedented government stimulus (bailouts) and lockdowns, temporarily skewed patterns of consumer demand, and provoked supply-chain chaos, while stoking the fires of inflation. The inflationary implications of all this ought to have been visible to the blindest of the blind. But they ignored it, on the principle that:
“Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.”
Just as a drug addict becomes ever-more dependent on the substances that offer an immediate sense of euphoria, so governments, companies and families became hooked on the prospect of never-ending, near-zero interest rates.
The distortions created by government intervention only serve to exacerbate the contradictions, which will finally be unleashed with redoubled force and violence.
That is just what we are witnessing at the present time. In an act of desperation, governments attempted to solve, first the crisis of 2008, then the Covid pandemic, and now the energy crisis by spending vast amounts of money that they did not possess, contributing to the present chaotic situation in the world economy.
The return of inflation
This signifies the demise of a financial system that has become habituated to low rates of inflation and interest rates. And the effects are dramatic and painful. Just like a drug addict who has been deprived of the drugs he depended on, so now governments suddenly find themselves shocked to be confronted with the soaring cost of borrowing.
Since they have absolutely no grasp of genuine economic theory, the bourgeois look around desperately for someone to blame for their plight, and they find a suitable scapegoat in Vladimir Putin. But the war in Ukraine was not the cause of the inflationary catastrophe. It only added even more fuel to the fire.
Dialectically, cause becomes effect and effect, in turn, becomes cause. Although the war did not cause the crisis, it is certainly true that it has enormously exacerbated the problem of inflation and disrupted world trade.
Clausewitz made the famous statement that war is only the continuation of politics by other means. But US imperialism has introduced a slight modification to that profoundly correct definition. It has weaponised trade, deliberately punishing any country that does not bend to its will.
In the far-off days when Britannia ruled the waves, British imperialism solved its problems by sending a gunboat. Nowadays, Washington sends a letter from the Department of Trade. So, under modern conditions, trade becomes merely the continuation of war by other means.
Russia, one of the largest exporters of fossil fuels, was deliberately shut out of its markets in the West by the sanctions imposed by US imperialism and approved by the EU. This instantly provoked an energy crisis, which gave rising prices a further boost.
As we shall see, the sanctions imposed by US imperialism signally failed in their objective, which was to cripple the Russian economy and undermine its military operations in Ukraine. But they gave a powerful new twist to the inflationary spiral all over the world. And, ironically, like an uncontrollable boomerang, this also hit the United States hard, thus upsetting all Biden’s calculations, while Putin quietly pocketed the profits derived from high and rising oil and gas prices.
All roads lead to ruin
Central banks are faced with an acute dilemma. They raised interest rates in order to curb demand and thereby (so they hope) reduce inflation. That was the theory that induced the US Federal Reserve to raise rates, compelling most monetary authorities to do the same.
Such measures, in and of themselves, cannot provide a sure cure for the syphilis of inflation, but it is sure to make a recession inevitable. That means bankrupting businesses, provoking factory closures, job losses and savage cuts in living standards.
That is a finished recipe for an intensification of the class struggle and a fierce political backlash. It means jumping from the frying pan into a very hot fire.
Moreover, once the economy enters a downturn, it will be difficult to halt the downward spiral of cause and effect that ends up in a deep slump, from which they will find it very difficult to extricate themselves.
The entire world will thus be faced with a prolonged period of economic stagnation and falling living standards, with explosive social and political consequences. In other words, under the capitalist system, all roads lead to ruin.
Fuel on the fire
It is impossible to be precise about the rhythm of events. There are too many accidental elements in this equation. But there are a number of things that we can say with certainty. In particular, all this will inevitably impact consciousness.
That is above all the case with the cost-of-living crisis. For many people, this is a life-or-death question. That is particularly the case in Africa, Asia and Latin America. But these effects are by no means confined to poor, undeveloped nations. They are increasingly felt in the advanced capitalist countries of Europe and North America.
Suddenly, the masses in Europe in particular find themselves faced with a real nightmare of collapsing living standards: wages, which were already being held down at very low levels, have been driven to new and unprecedentedly low levels by roaring inflation. Pensions and savings have been rapidly devalued. Families have been faced with the painful dilemma of choosing between heating their homes or feeding their children.
The old, the sick and the most vulnerable people in society are now being placed in mortal danger as governments slash expenditure on social services. And for the first time in many decades, the middle class is faced with ruin.
Small businesses are being driven to bankruptcy by a poisonous combination of inflation, rising interest rates, rents and mortgage repayments. And as the recession takes hold, factory closures will mean a sharp increase in unemployment and a slump in demand, leading to further bankruptcies.
The crisis facing the capitalists is too deep, the contradictions too great to be resolved on a capitalist basis. They cannot repeat the monetary policies of the previous period.
They have used up all their ammunition in attempting to solve the last crisis. Moreover, those tactics are responsible for creating the huge mountain of debt that is hanging over the world like a threatening avalanche.
Now they will be compelled to lurch from one crisis to another, without the necessary weapons to tackle them. One way or another, sooner or later, debts have to be repaid. And the bill will be presented to those who can least afford to pay.
But this, in turn, is pouring petrol on the fire of the class struggle. Following a long period of falling living standards, public patience with austerity has run out, and attempts to impose new austerity measures will provoke fierce resistance.
All this presents an alarming picture for the ruling class. A widespread ferment and a general questioning of the established order has already begun. The potential exists not just for a workers’ backlash everywhere, but also for a massive reaction against the market, the capitalist system and all its works among broad layers of society.
For many months the pages of the financial press have been filled with the most pessimistic prognoses. The feeling is growing that the world order is being stood on its head as globalisation turns into its opposite and the old stability is fractured by the war in Ukraine and the resultant chaos in the energy market.
The fears of the strategists of capital were reflected in a speech at Georgetown University delivered by Kristalina Georgieva, currently serving as Managing Director of the IMF. She warned that:
“The old order, characterised by adherence to global rules, low interest rates and low inflation, is giving way to one in which ‘any country can be thrown off course more easily and more often.’
“We are experiencing a fundamental shift in the global economy, from a world of relative predictability … to a world with more fragility – greater uncertainty, higher economic volatility, geopolitical confrontations, and more frequent and devastating natural disasters.”
The world’s financial markets provide a clear indication of the depth of the crisis. According to The Economist:
“The ructions in the markets are of a magnitude not seen for a generation. Global inflation is in double digits for the first time in nearly 40 years. Having been slow to respond, the Federal Reserve is now cranking up interest rates at the fastest pace since the 1980s, while the dollar is at its strongest for two decades, causing chaos outside America. If you have an investment portfolio or a pension, this year has been gruesome. Global shares have dropped by 25 percent in dollar terms, the worst year since at least the 1980s, and government bonds are on course for their worst year since 1949. Alongside some $40trn of losses there is a queasy sense that the world order is being upended as globalisation heads into retreat and the energy system is fractured after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”
This nervousness in the markets is an accurate barometer of the collapse of confidence of investors, who see the storm clouds gathering fast over the world economy.
Unstoppable rise of the dollar
A large part of the problem is the unstoppable rise of the dollar. Rather than an expression of confidence in the strength of the US economy, this is an indication of the extent of panic that is gripping the markets.
The greenback has risen sharply, partly because the Fed is raising rates but also because investors are backing away from risk. Nervous investors look around for a safe haven for their money and imagine they have found it in the almighty dollar.
But the rising dollar is itself a factor in the crisis of the money markets of the world, crushing all the others in its iron embrace. It is outside America where the financial effects of the Fed’s monetary tightening have their most severe and damaging effects. As the Financial Times pointed out (12 October 2022):
“Whatever we call it, the strong dollar’s victims have one culprit in mind – the Federal Reserve.”
As a matter of fact, the US Federal Reserve, until the very last moment, had a relaxed – one ought rather to say supine – indifference to inflation, which, in accordance to the accepted norm, had allegedly been vanquished.
But when the red light started to flash violently, the Fed was suddenly gripped by a panic, pushing through one interest increase after another, even though this was equivalent to slamming the brakes on the car.
The Fed’s rate hikes were pushing the US economy itself into a recession. That was precisely the intention. All the indicators are negative. House prices are falling, banks are laying off staff, and FedEx and Ford, two economic bellwethers, have issued profit warnings. It is only a matter of time before the unemployment rate starts rising.
The irresistible rise of the US dollar immediately becomes a major destabilising factor. International investors are alarmed at the prospect of the United States Federal Reserve raising interest rates so aggressively that the world’s largest economy tips into recession. This will exacerbate the recession that other major economies are already facing, and will drag the rest of the world down also.
Their fears are well-founded. Around the world, the rise of the dollar is pushing up the cost of imports as well as that of debt repayments for governments, companies and households that have taken dollar denominated loans. All other countries find themselves compelled to march in step with the US Federal Reserve, increasing interest rates to the levels dictated by it.
Across Asia, governments were forced to raise interests and spend their reserves to resist the depreciation of their currencies. India, Thailand and Singapore have intervened in financial markets to support their currencies. Excluding China, emerging-market currency reserves have fallen by over $200bn in the past year, according to the JPMorgan Chase bank, the fastest fall in two decades.
This has serious repercussions, not only economic but also political. China responded by projecting its own currency as an alternative medium of trade, notably in oil.
Massive government debts
The eurozone’s indebted economies have been pushed remorselessly near the brink of bankruptcy. They now find themselves in an even worse position than that which existed in the sovereign-debt crisis a decade ago.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, warned that the Fed was exporting recession in the same way the euro crisis was imposed by Germany’s post-2008 dictates.
“Much of the world is now in danger of becoming Greece,” he wailed.
In Europe, the situation was made far worse when Britain poured petrol on the fire with a reckless fiscal policy, which immediately provoked panic on financial markets.
Necessity revealed itself through an accident. The crisis in Britain and the tax-cutting measures of the short-lived Truss administration in October 2022 acted like a catalyst, sending financial markets into a panic, which could easily have spread to the entire global monetary system.
This was met with a mixture of anger, incredulity and alarm by international money markets. In effect, Liz Truss threw a hand grenade onto a barrel of TNT that was ready to explode at the slightest jolt.
The IMF launched a biting attack on the UK’s plan to implement £45bn of debt-funded tax cuts. It worked. The Truss government was forced into a humiliating retreat. The chancellor of the exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng, was sacked and his entire budget was junked. Soon after, Truss herself was ejected from office and the markets temporarily stabilised. But the damage had already been done.
Like virginity, once lost, financial credibility is rather hard to restore, and Britain’s reputation as a world power now lies in the gutter. The UK, which formerly enjoyed an exemplary credit rating, has now been downgraded and is regarded as in the same bracket as debt-ridden, crisis-prone Italy.
But that was the least important result of this affair. The implications spread much further than British shores.
Alarming parallel with the 1930s
Brexit was the clearest indication of the consequences of economic nationalism. And the conduct of the British government in this affair served as a warning of the dangerous consequences of this.
The brief and ruinous premiership of Liz Truss in Britain demonstrated that borrowing a lot of money at a time of inflation and rising rates is not an option. But what is the alternative?
Larry Summers, whose alarm at the present situation we already noted, was quoted in the Financial Times as saying:
“The destabilisation wrought by British errors will not be confined to Britain.”
And that is the point. Bond prices in countries as different as the US and Italy veered violently in response to each twist and turn of the convoluted story coming out of London.
That was no accident. A financial collapse in London – which, despite Britain’s decline, remains one of the most important financial centres in the world – could have had the same effect as the crisis of 1931, only on a far larger scale.
Although it is generally forgotten now, the Great Depression in Europe was sparked off by the collapse of the Creditanstalt bank of Vienna in May 1931, which began a domino effect that rapidly spread throughout the financial markets of Europe and beyond.
This was the trigger to the great deflationary spiral in Europe between 1931 and 1933. And history can easily repeat itself, particularly as the world economy is far more integrated and interdependent than it was then.
The Ukrainian factor
The war in Ukraine has now become an important factor in world perspectives. However, in order to have a clear idea of the issues involved and how they could play out, it is necessary to concentrate our attention on the fundamental processes, and not be distracted by the noisy information war, or by the inevitable vicissitudes on the battlefield.
The mainstream media has constantly repeated claims of Russia’s defeat. But that does not fit well with the known facts.
The most important point is that this is a proxy war between Russia and US imperialism. Russia is not fighting a Ukrainian army but a NATO army – that is to say, the army of a state that is not formally a member of that alliance, but which is financed, armed, trained and equipped by NATO, which also provides it with logistical support and vital information.
“Politics by other means”
As noted, war is only the continuation of politics by other means. The present war will end when the political ends of the key players are satisfied or when one or both sides are exhausted and lose the will to continue fighting.
What are these goals? The war aims of Zelensky are no secret. He will, he says, settle for nothing less than the complete expulsion of the Russian army from all Ukrainian lands – including Crimea.
This standpoint has been enthusiastically supported by the hawks in the western coalition: the Poles, the Swedes and the leaders of the Baltic States – who have their own interests in mind – and, of course, the wooden-headed chauvinists and warmongers in London, who imagine that Britain, even in its present state of economic, political and moral bankruptcy, is still a major world power.
These deranged ladies and gentlemen have been pushing the Ukrainians to go even further – much further than the Americans would like. Their most ardent desire is to see the Ukrainian army driving the Russians, not just from Donbas but also from Crimea, provoking the overthrow of Putin and the total defeat and the complete dismemberment of the Russian Federation (though they do not often speak of this in public).
Although they make a lot of noise, no serious person pays the slightest attention to the antics of the politicians in London, Warsaw and Vilnius. As leaders of second-rate states that lack any real weight in the scales of international politics, they remain second-rate actors who can never play more than a minor supporting role in this great drama.
It is the USA that pays the bills and dictates everything that happens. And at least the more sober-minded strategists of US imperialism know that all this delirium is just so much hot air. Under certain conditions, smaller imperialist states can play a certain role in the unfolding of events, but in the last analysis it is Washington that decides.
Despite all the public show of bravado, the serious military strategists have understood that it is impossible for Ukraine to defeat Russia. General Mark A. Milley is the 20th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the USA’s highest-ranking military officer. His opinions must therefore be taken very seriously when he says:
“So, in terms of probability, the probability of a Ukrainian military victory defined as kicking the Russians out of all of Ukraine to include what they define or what the claim is Crimea, to – the probability of that happening anytime soon is not high, militarily.”
The most important point to grasp is that the war aims of Washington do not coincide with those of the men in Kyiv, who long ago surrendered their so-called national sovereignty to their Boss on the other side of the Atlantic, and who no longer decide anything on their own.
The goal of US imperialism is not – and never has been – to defend a single inch of Ukrainian territory or help the Ukrainians win a war, or in any other way.
Their real aim is very simple: to weaken Russia militarily and economically; to bleed it dry and to inflict harm on it; to kill its soldiers and ruin its economy, so that Russia will no longer offer any resistance to American domination of Europe and the world.
It was this aim that induced them to push the Ukrainians into an entirely unnecessary conflict with Russia over NATO membership. Having impelled this conflict, they sat back and watched the spectacle of the two sides slugging it out, at a safe distance of several thousand miles.
Regardless of all their public protestations, the imperialist hypocrites are entirely indifferent to the sufferings of the people of Ukraine, who they regard as mere pawns on the local chessboard of their power struggle with Russia.
And it must be noted that, up to the present day, Ukraine has not been admitted to either EU or NATO membership, which was supposed to be the central business in the whole affair. This is no accident.
The present conflict suits America’s interests in many ways. It helps their aim of driving a wedge between Europe and Russia, thereby bringing the former further under her domination. In this regard, the war has already delivered results. The economic entanglement of the EU and Russia, in particular concerning energy, is severely broken, which significantly hits the strongest EU economy, Germany. The natural gas trade through the Baltic Sea has been made physically non-viable through the blasting of the Nord Stream pipelines, an act of sabotage clearly committed with the involvement of state agencies. The rising energy costs allow the US to pressure the EU, especially the German, industry further. The Americans have the luxury of embroiling their enemy in a war in which no American soldiers are involved (at least, in theory), and all the fighting and dying is obligingly carried out by others.
If Ukraine was a member of NATO, this would mean that American combat troops would end up in a European war, fighting the Russian army. Major EU countries meanwhile have neither the interest nor the possibility to admit Ukraine to the EU. This would mean the collapse of the economic and political balance of the already extremely fragile fabric of the Union. No, far better to leave things as they are.
When Zelensky complains that his western allies are not sending him all the arms he needs to win the war, he is not wrong. The Americans are sending him just enough arms to keep the war going, but not enough to score anything that resembles a decisive victory. This is completely in line with America’s real war aims.
Sanctions have failed
The sanctions imposed on Russia after it invaded Ukraine have been a spectacular failure. In fact, the value of Russian exports actually grew since the start of the war.
Although the volume of Russia’s imports plunged as a result of sanctions, a number of countries (China, India, Turkey, but also some which are part of the EU, like Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands) have increased their trade with Russia. Moreover, the high prices of oil and gas have offset revenue that Russia lost to sanctions. India and China have been buying much more of its crude, albeit at a discounted rate.
Thus, the lost income resulting from sanctions has been compensated by the rising price of oil and gas on world markets. Vladimir Putin continues to finance his armies with the proceeds, while the West is faced with the prospect of energy instability over the coming years, with soaring energy bills and rising public anger.
The question is: which side will tire of the war first? It is clear that time is not on the side of Ukraine, either from a military or a political point of view. And in the final analysis, the latter will weigh most heavily in the scales.
The winter, in which Europe was hit by a serious shortage of gas and electricity, will have weakened public support for the war in Ukraine. Warmer weather will bring no respite, as attention turns to the impossible problem of replenishing gas stocks in time for next year without Russian supplies. Every month that sanctions continue, concerns about next winter will grow. American support also cannot be taken for granted. In public, the Americans are keeping up the idea of their unshakable support for Ukraine, but in private, they are not at all convinced about the outcome. Behind the scenes, Washington has been putting pressure on Zelensky to negotiate with Putin.
In practice, however, the successful Ukrainian offensive in September 2022 and the Russian withdrawal from Kherson complicated the state of play on the diplomatic chessboard.
On the one hand, Zelensky and the rabid nationalist and outright fascist forces in the state apparatus, were puffed up with their unexpected gains and wished to go much further. On the other hand, the military setbacks represented a humiliating blow for Putin, who drew the conclusion that he needed to step up his “special military operation”. Thus, neither side is in a mood to negotiate anything meaningful at present. But that will change.
Zelensky’s demagogy, constantly repeating that they will never give up an inch of land, is clearly designed to put pressure on NATO and US imperialism; insisting that the Ukrainians will fight to the end, always on condition that the West continues to send huge amounts of money and arms.
Biden would like to prolong the present conflict in order to weaken and undermine Russia. But not at any price, and certainly not if that involves a direct military clash with Russia. Meanwhile, poll after poll show that public opinion in the West, in support of the war in Ukraine, is slowly declining.
Putin’s hint that he might consider using nuclear weapons was almost certainly a bluff, but it caused alarm in the White House. Speaking at a fundraiser in New York, Biden said Russia’s president was “not joking” about the “potential use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons because his military is, you might say, significantly underperforming”.
As a result of the nuclear threat, secret negotiations started taking place between Washington and Moscow. This was the kiss of death for the Ukrainian side, which was getting increasingly desperate and looking for any excuse to stage a provocation that they hoped would finally drag NATO into direct participation in the war.
This underlines the dangers that are implicit if the war is allowed to continue. There are too many uncontrollable elements in play, which might give rise to the kind of downward spiral that could lead to a real war between NATO and Russia.
The danger of such developments was underlined in November 2022, when the world was shocked to hear Poland’s president’s statement that his country had been hit by Russian-made missiles, with western media claiming that Russia was behind it.
That lie was soon exposed when it was revealed by the Pentagon itself that the missile that hit a Polish grain facility at a farm near the village of Przewodow, close to the border with Ukraine, was fired by the Ukrainian army.
NATO and the Poles hastened to explain that it was all “a regrettable accident”. But despite the missile being an S-300 anti air missile with very limited range, which hardly could have been fired from Russia, Zelensky blatantly lied and insisted it was a deliberate attack from Russia. He hoped it would have given him a powerful lever to demand more arms and money. And in the best-case scenario (from his point of view) it might push NATO into taking retaliatory measures against Russia, with interesting consequences.
If that incident had served to push NATO into action against Russia, it could have sparked off an unstoppable chain of events that might have led to all-out war. There is no doubt whatsoever that it would suit Zelensky very well to see NATO enter the war and thus pull his hot chestnuts out of the fire.
A general European conflagration would have been a nightmare for millions of people. But for Zelensky and his clique it would have been the answer to all their prayers. It would naturally be impossible for the Americans to stand on the sidelines, warming their hands on the flames.
There would have to be American troops on the ground. Excellent news from the standpoint of the Kyiv regime, but not at all from that of the White House and the Pentagon. That was not supposed to be part of the script!
The Americans have no intention of letting things go that far. A direct confrontation between NATO and Russia, with all its nuclear implications, will be avoided by both sides at all costs. It is precisely for this reason that the Americans have several channels open, in order to avert any chance of such uncontrolled developments. In fact, they are straining to put definite limits to the present war and open the path towards negotiations.
America calls for talks
The reality of the situation is not lost on serious, military strategists in Washington. Joint Chiefs Chair general Mark Milley called on Zelensky to begin talks with Russia.
Milley said there may be a chance to negotiate an end to the conflict if and when the front lines stabilise during winter:
“When there’s an opportunity to negotiate, when peace can be achieved, seize it,” Milley said. “Seize the moment.”
But if negotiations never materialise or fail, Milley says the United States would continue to arm Ukraine, even as outright military victory for either side looks increasingly unlikely.
“There has to be a mutual recognition that military victory is probably in the true sense of the word maybe not achievable through military means, and therefore you need to turn to other means,” he said.
This is the authentic voice of US imperialism. And this, not the rhetorical declarations of Zelensky, is what ultimately determines the fate of Ukraine.
Washington has always been reluctant about supplying Kyiv with the kind of advanced weaponry it has been requesting. It is intended to send a signal to Moscow that the US is unwilling to provide weapons that could escalate the conflict, creating the potential for a direct military clash between Russia and NATO.
It is also a warning to Zelensky that there were definite limits to the willingness of the US to continue to foot the bill for an expensive war with no clear end in sight.
In the first month of the war, the Ukrainians were willing to negotiate with Russia. Since then, Zelensky has rejected the idea of negotiations altogether. He has said repeatedly that Ukraine is only prepared to enter negotiations with Russia if its troops leave all parts of Ukraine, including Crimea and the eastern areas of the Donbas, de facto controlled by Russia since 2014, and if those Russians who have committed crimes in Ukraine face trial.
Zelensky also made clear that he would not hold negotiations with the current Russian leadership. He even signed a decree specifying that Ukraine would only negotiate with a Russian president who has succeeded Vladimir Putin.
These defiant declarations caused much irritation in Washington. The Washington Post revealed that US officials have warned the Ukrainian government in private that “Ukraine fatigue” among allies could worsen if Kyiv continues not to negotiate with Putin.
Officials told the paper that Ukraine’s position on negotiations with Russia is wearing thin among allies who are worried about the economic effects of a protracted war.
At the time of writing, the US has given Ukraine $65bn worth of aid and is ready to give more, saying it will support Ukraine “for as long as it takes”. However, allies in parts of Europe, not to speak of Africa and Latin America, are concerned by the strain that the war is putting on energy and food prices as well as supply chains. “Ukraine fatigue is a real thing for some of our partners,” one US official said.
Naturally, the Americans cannot publicly admit to putting pressure on Zelensky. On the contrary, they maintain an appearance of firm solidarity with Kyiv. But in reality, serious cracks are appearing in the façade.
For the Ukrainian leadership, acceptance of the US request would mean a humiliating retreat after so many months of belligerent rhetoric about the need for a decisive military defeat against Russia in order to secure Ukraine’s security in the long term.
The string of successes on the battlefield, first in the north-east Kharkiv region and then with the seizure of Kherson, encouraged Zelensky to believe in the possibility of a “final victory”. But the Americans have a better grasp of reality and they know very well that time is not necessarily on the side of Ukraine.
Is Putin in danger of being overthrown?
The western propaganda machine constantly repeats the line that Putin will soon be overthrown by the Russian people who are tired of the war. But that is mere wishful thinking. It is based on a fundamental misconception. At the present moment, Putin still has quite a wide base of support and this has risen to new levels in recent months. He is not in any immediate danger of overthrow.
There is no significant anti-war movement in Russia and what there is is led and directed by the bourgeois-liberal elements. That is precisely its main weakness. The workers take one look at the pro-western credentials of these elements, and turn away, cursing.
The war has the support of the majority, even if some have doubts. The imposition of sanctions and the constant stream of anti-Russian propaganda in the West, and the fact that NATO and the Americans are supplying modern weapons to Ukraine, confirms the suspicion that Russia is being besieged by its enemies.
The only pressure on Putin comes, not from any anti-war movement, but on the contrary, from the Russian nationalists and others who want the war to be pursued with greater force and determination. However, if the war drags on for any length of time without significant proof of a Russian military success, that can change.
In early November, more than 100 conscripts from Russia’s Chuvash Republic organised a protest in Ulyanov Oblast because they had not received payments promised by Putin.
A small symptom, no doubt. But if the present conflict is prolonged, it could be multiplied on a far bigger scale, posing a threat, not just to the war, but to the regime itself.
An even more significant symptom is the protests of the mothers of soldiers killed in Ukraine. These are still small in size and mainly concentrated in eastern Republics like Dagestan, where high levels of unemployment meant that large numbers of young men volunteered for the army.
If the war continues and the number of deaths increase, we may see protests of mothers in Moscow and Petersburg, which Putin cannot ignore and will be unable to repress. This would undoubtedly mark a change in the whole situation. But it has not materialised – yet.
The declared aim of Russia was "to prevent NATO membership and to demilitarise and de-nazify Ukraine", also Putin wanted a neutral or pro-Russian government in Kyiv. That in effect, would mean eliminating Ukraine as an independent national state.
But Putin clearly miscalculated and the Russians did not have sufficient forces to achieve these aims. Even the task of holding on to their gains in Donbas proved to be difficult, a fact that was clearly shown by the Ukrainian offensive in early September.
But the failures at the front acted as the necessary stimulus to readjust. They took steps to mobilise the forces needed to do what is necessary.
Russia carried out a mass mobilisation. The dispatch of 300,000 fresh Russian troops to the front will dramatically change the balance of forces.
The frequently repeated argument that the Russians are running short of ammunition is entirely false. Russia has a large and powerful arms industry. They have very considerable stocks of arms and ammunition.
It is true that their stocks of the most modern missiles with pin-point accuracy are limited and will run out. But there is no shortage of other missiles, which are perfectly adequate for normal battlefield activities.
Meanwhile, the Russians continue to pulverise targets all over Ukraine with artillery, rockets, drones and missiles, destroying military command centres, transportation hubs and infrastructure, which will seriously hamper the movement of troops and arms to the front.
Napoleon’s saying that war is the most complex of all equations retains its full force. War is a moving picture with many unforeseeable variants and possible scenarios.
The variant that has been confidently advanced by the western propaganda machine ever since the commencement of hostilities appeared to be validated by the success of the Ukrainian offensive in September 2022 and later by the Russian withdrawal from the western part of Kherson.
However, we must guard against impressionistic conclusions drawn from a limited number of events. The outcome of wars is rarely decided by a single battle – or even by several battles.
The question is: did this victory, or that advance, materially alter the underlying balance of forces, which alone can determine the final result? These fundamental questions have yet to be determined. Different outcomes are possible, depending on how conditions develop both in Russia on the one side, and Ukraine and its western masters on the other side.
Russia has been building up its forces in the East, strengthening its military presence in Belarus and intensifying its aerial bombardment of both military targets and the already weakened Ukrainian infrastructure.
This degradation of the infrastructure reached the point that there is even talk of evacuating major cities – including Kyiv – which are becoming uninhabitable as a consequence of the disruption of supplies of energy and water.
At what point this destruction will begin to undermine the will to resist is hard to determine. The historical experience indicates that aerial bombardment alone can never win wars.
Indeed, in the short term, it will have the opposite effect, heightening the hatred of the enemy and increasing the spirit of resistance. But all things have their limits. Beyond a certain point, a general feeling of war weariness sets in and the will to continue fighting becomes weakened.
Thus far, the Ukrainians have shown a remarkable level of resilience. But how long the morale of both the civilian population and the soldiers at the front can be maintained is unclear.
But as soon as a clamour for peace commences, serious splits will break out in the leading layer in Kyiv between the right-wing nationalists, who wish to fight to the bitter end, and the more pragmatic elements, who see that further resistance will only lead to the total destruction of Ukraine and that some kind of negotiated settlement is the only way out.
Whatever the result, there can be no question of a return to the status quo in Europe. A new period of extreme instability, wars, civil wars, revolution and counterrevolution has been born.
The world is undergoing changes that resemble the dramatic shifts of the tectonic plates in geology. Such shifts are always accompanied by earthquakes.
These political and diplomatic changes have the same effect. Even before the war, the retreat from globalisation and the consequent rise in economic nationalism had led to the sharpening of conflicts between the different powers.
But the Ukrainian conflict enormously exacerbated all the tensions and deepened all the contradictions. As a consequence of all of this, we are witnessing a profound change in world relations.
The most evident sign of this is the fact that China has drawn much closer to Russia, as both are in competition with US imperialism.
Russia is a regional imperialist power. But its possession of huge reserves of oil, gas and other raw materials, its strong industrial base and its advanced military-industrial complex, along with its powerful army and nuclear weapons arsenal, all combine to give it a global reach that brings it into collision with US imperialism.
Washington sees Russia as a threat to its global interests, especially in Europe. The old hatred and suspicion of the Soviet Union did not disappear with the collapse of the USSR. Joe Biden is a prime example of the generation of Russophobes that was left over from the years of the Cold War.
After the collapse of the USSR, the Americans took advantage of the chaos of the Yeltsin years to assert their domination on a world scale. They intervened in areas formerly dominated by Russia, which they would never have dared to do in Soviet times.
First, they intervened in the Balkans, accelerating the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. The criminal invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were followed by an unsuccessful intervention in the Syrian civil war, which brought them into collision with Russia.
All the time, they continued to expand their grip on Eastern Europe, expanding NATO by including former Soviet satellites like Poland and the Baltic States. That was a direct breach of the promises repeatedly made by the West that NATO would not expand “one inch” to the east.
This brought a hostile military alliance to the very frontiers of the Russian Federation. But in attempting to draw Georgia into the orbit of NATO, they crossed a red line. The ruling class in Russia was humiliated and threatened and used military force to bring the Georgians back into line.
The invasion of Ukraine was meant to show the Americans that Russia was flexing its muscles and pushing back at US imperialism and NATO.
USA and Europe
The USA is using the conflict in Ukraine to pursue its aim to force the Europeans to cut their ties with Russia and thus strengthen the vice-like grip of US imperialism over the whole of Europe.
Prior to this, the German ruling class was, in effect, using its links with Russia as leverage to secure at least a partial independence vis-à-vis the USA.
Its other main lever was its de facto domination of the European Union, which it hoped to build up as an alternative power bloc, capable of pursuing its own aims and interests on a global stage.
There are growing tensions between the USA and Europe, which have actually been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, although that could only temporarily paper over the cracks. These tensions have resurfaced in the recent protectionist infrastructure bill by the US, which puts additional pressure on the industrial production in the EU.
US tensions with Europe are not new. They surfaced during the Iraq War, and more recently over relations with Iran. The leaders of France and Germany were always suspicious of America’s close relations with Britain, which they rightly regarded as an American Trojan Horse inside the European camp.
The French, who never concealed their own ambitions to dominate Europe, were traditionally more vocal in their anti-American rhetoric. The Germans, who were in reality the real masters of Europe, were more circumspect, preferring the reality of power to empty boasting.
The Americans were not deceived. They saw Germany, not France, as their main rival, and Trump in particular made no secret of his extreme distrust and dislike of Berlin.
In order to secure their independence from Washington, the German capitalists entered into a close relationship with Moscow. This enraged their “allies” across the Atlantic, but gave them considerable benefits in the form of cheap and plentiful supplies of oil and gas.
Being deprived of these supplies is a very high price to pay for keeping the Americans happy. Under Angela Merkel, Germany jealously preserved its independent role. It required a war in Ukraine to make Germany fall into line – at least for the time being.
The bourgeois Greens have exposed themselves as the most fervent defenders of US imperialism.
But behind the façade of “unity in the face of Russian aggression”, the differences remain. That was made clear in a cartoon circulating concerning two women – one American and the other European. The second woman announces proudly to the first: “I will be happy to freeze to death to help Ukraine”, to which the American woman replies with a smile: “And I will be happy to see you freeze, too!”
In reality, the USA is using the pretext of the war to tighten its grip on Europe. For the time being, this has succeeded. But it is not at all clear how long the patience of the Germans and other Europeans will last. The contradictions generated by this will only become clear when the Ukrainian business is settled.
The USA and China
In the 1920s, in a brilliant prediction, Trotsky stated that the centre of world history had passed from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, and was destined to pass from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This prediction is now becoming a fact before our very eyes.
The conflict between the USA and Russia is mainly (though not entirely) in Europe. But the conflict between China and America is mainly across the Pacific. In the long run, the latter region will play a far more decisive role in world history than the second-rate states of Europe, which have entered into a long-term period of historical decline.
Events in the Pacific battleground will undoubtedly have important worldwide repercussions in the future. The tensions between the two countries grow greater every day. Both Democrats and Republicans make no secret of the fact that they consider China to be their principal and most dangerous adversary.
America is on a path that leads to a trade war with China. It has tightened its restrictions on the export of technology to China even further.
The bourgeois strategists speculate that China will separate itself from Russia. But that is just more wishful thinking. Under the present conditions, there is no way that China will move away from Russia, or vice-versa, because they need each other in order to confront the power of US imperialism.
At the present time the conflict between the US and China is centred on the question of Taiwan. The war in Ukraine immediately had the effect of placing the question of Taiwan on the agenda of international politics. Beijing long ago made it clear in no uncertain terms that it regards Taiwan as an inalienable part of China.
But in propping up Taiwanese nationalist forces, beefing up military aid and hindering Chinese access to the Taiwanese market, the Americans are adding to the tensions surrounding the island. At the same time, however, the US is maintaining a policy of “strategic ambiguity”, i.e. preserving support of the status quo in Taiwan because it knows that a departure from this could lead to a disastrous military confrontation.
The unofficial visit of Nancy Pelosi to the island was an extremely foolish act, a pointless provocation that was looked upon with dismay by the most serious representatives of US imperialism and by US allies across Asia, who do not wish to be forced to choose sides in a trade war, much less a real one.
Even Joe Biden, who is not renowned for his intellectual acumen, could see that it would lead to an immediate response from China. And it did. Beijing stepped up the pressure with naval and air force exercises around the island. The war of words between the two countries became increasingly heated.
But in fact, neither side is anxious to bring matters to the point of an actual military confrontation. An armed intervention of the USA would face enormous logistical problems, and Xi Jinping is more concerned about maintaining internal stability than getting involved in military adventures. After having secured his ‘reelection’ at the 20th CCP Congress, Xi has struck a more conciliatory tone regarding Taiwan and the US.
Only a very serious crisis within China, which threatened to bring down the regime, or a US-backed Taiwanese declaration of independence, could possibly tip the scales in favour of such an adventure. But that is not immediately on the agenda.
And so, the present uneasy equilibrium between China, America and Taiwan will be maintained for some time to come, with the inevitable ups and downs. But the titanic struggle for supremacy between the USA and China will grow until it embraces the whole of Asia, with the most far-reaching consequences for the whole planet.
USA, Saudi Arabia and Russia
The Ukraine War also opened up conflicts between the USA and countries that were previously considered close allies. The USA is angry that many nations are continuing to trade with Russia, thus undermining US imposed sanctions. China is openly flouting America’s wishes, and not much can be done to stop that.
But India, which is supposed to be America’s friend, is also purchasing huge quantities of Russian oil at bargain-basement prices and selling them on to Europe with a pretty markup. Joe Biden fumes and Modi just shrugs his shoulders. After all, Russian oil is so cheap…
It may be cheap for India and China, but the world shortage of oil has driven up market prices, which benefits Russia, as we have explained.
Tensions have therefore risen between Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude oil exporter, and the US, the world’s largest consumer. Ignoring Biden’s request to increase oil production in order to bring global oil prices down, Riyadh reached a deal with Moscow to introduce cuts in production aimed at halting the slide in prices.
Saudi Arabia’s cooperation with Moscow is a source of tremendous exasperation and outrage in the White House. White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that it was “clear” OPEC+ was “aligning with Russia”.
The row between the Saudis and the USA is symptomatic of the increasing desire of governments in Asia, Africa and Latin America to take advantage of the world conflict between Russia, China and the USA to assert their own interests, balancing between the two sides. The conduct of Erdogan in Turkey is a further example of this.
A multipolar world?
The readjustments to which we have referred have led to much speculation about a “multipolar” world. It is assumed that the ascent of China as an economic and military power will challenge the leading position of US imperialism.
The decline of the USA relative to China has been commented on for decades. However, it must be emphasised that this is a relative decline. In absolute terms, the USA remains the wealthiest and most powerful military state on earth.
In the 1970s, there was similar speculation about the rise of Japan, which some predicted would overtake the US economy in a few decades. But that never materialised.
The explosive growth of the Japanese economy reached its limits and Japan entered into a prolonged period of economic stagnation. Now there are indications that China may be approaching a similar point.
The limits of the so-called Chinese model are manifested in a sharp slowing of economic growth. For the foreseeable future, the USA will retain its position as the main imperialist power. But that will bring its own problems.
In the 19th Century, British imperialism dominated a huge part of the terrestrial globe. Its fleet dominated the seas, although it was increasingly challenged by the rising power of Germany, and American imperialism was still in its early stages of development.
At that time, Britain succeeded in enriching itself at the expense of its colonies and its dominant role in world trade. Its power was undermined by two world wars, and the USA inherited Britain’s role as the world policeman. But it won that position in a period of imperialist decline. And the role of world policeman is proving a very onerous one.
Despite its colossal wealth and military power, the USA suffered its first military defeat in the jungles of Vietnam. The earlier Korean war had ended in a draw and still remains unresolved. The military adventures in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria all ended in humiliation and the loss of billions of dollars.
Now the war in Ukraine – in which it is not supposed to be an active participant, although, in practice, it is – has become a further colossal drain on its resources. As a result, there is a powerful reaction on the part of US public opinion against foreign military adventures. This acts as a strong factor limiting its potential to wage war.
The humiliating defeats suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan are burned in the consciousness of the people of the United States. They are heartily sick of foreign interventions and wars, and this is a powerful factor limiting the room for manoeuvre of both Biden and the Pentagon.
On the other hand, the Trump wing of the Republican Party shows a strong tendency in the direction of isolationism, which has traditionally been a powerful factor in US politics.
The general instability in the world constantly threatens to inflame political instability within US society. That is what Trotsky meant when he predicted that the USA would emerge as the dominant world power after the Second World War, but it would have dynamite built into its foundations.
War and peace
The period into which we have entered will be characterised by increasing instability and frictions between the different powers and blocs. The right reformists have adopted the full programme and rhetoric (“defend democracy”) of the bourgeoisies’ imperialist agendas. The “Lefts” are always singing moving hymns to Peace and Human Brotherhood, which they imagine is safeguarded by the Charter of the United Nations.
Yet in the 80 or so years since its foundation, the so-called United Nations has never prevented any war. Between 1946 and 2020, there have been approximately 570 wars, causing at least 10,477,718 civilian and military deaths. The UN is merely a talking shop that gives the impression that it can solve problems.
In reality, in the best case, it may sometimes settle small issues, which do not affect the fundamental interests of the great powers. In the worst case, as in the Korean War in the 1950s, the Congo in the 1960s and the first Iraq war in 1991, it serves as a convenient fig-leaf to disguise imperialist designs.
In the past, the existing tensions would already have led to a major war between the Great Powers. But changing conditions have removed this from the agenda – at least for the present. For the past seven decades there has been no world war, although, as we have pointed out, there were plenty of small ones.
The capitalists do not wage war for patriotism, democracy, or any other high-sounding principles. They wage war for profit, to capture foreign markets, sources of raw material (such as oil), and to expand spheres of influence.
A nuclear war would signify none of these things, but only the mutual destruction of both sides. They have even coined a phrase to describe this: MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). Such a war would not be in the interests of the bankers and capitalists.
Another decisive factor – already referred to – is the mass opposition to war, particularly (but not exclusively) in the United States of America. According to one opinion poll, only 25 percent of the US population would favour direct military intervention in Ukraine, which means that the overwhelming majority would be opposed.
It is this, and not any love of peace, and certainly not any respect for the (Dis)United Nations, that has prevented the US from sending troops into a direct confrontation with the Russian army in Ukraine.
Of course, there is no shortage of stupid or even unbalanced American generals who think that war with Russia or China, or better still both of them, would be a good idea, and if that meant the nuclear annihilation of the planet, that would be a necessary price to pay.
But such people are kept in check, as a man who keeps a vicious guard dog to defend his property makes sure it is kept on a chain. And unless we have the perspective of the coming to power of an American Hitler, nobody will be inclined to sign a collective suicide note on behalf of the American people.
Although a world war is ruled out under present conditions, there will be many “small” wars and proxy wars like the one in Ukraine. This will add to the general volatility and add fuel to the flames of world disorder.
In the USA, the stability of the status quo was predicated on the division of power between two bourgeois parties, the Republicans and Democrats. For more than 100 years, these two political giants alternated in government with the regularity of the pendulum of an old clock.
Everything seemed to be functioning smoothly. But now, the previous regularity has given way to the most violent turbulence.
The Trump years were characterised by extreme unpredictability. His refusal to accept the transfer of power, or even to admit that he could ever lose an election, created the conditions for the 6 January 2021 assault on Congress by a mob of his angry supporters. These events were the herald of a new period of violent upheavals in American society.
All serious economic commentators are predicting that the US will enter into recession in 2023. The annual inflation rate for the United States is now above 8 percent, the highest for 40 years. As stated, the Federal Reserve has been gradually increasing interest rates, bringing mortgage rates to a 15-year high, moving close to 7 percent, compared to just over 3 percent in 2021.
At the same time, US National Debt has gone over the $31 trillion mark. With interest rates rising sharply, this will put big pressure on US public finances. Job creation has also slowed down, with unemployment beginning to creep upwards.
This comes on top of a long-term relative decline, which has seen living standards stagnate or fall for millions of Americans. Real wages have been stagnant since the 1970s. Millions of well-paid manufacturing jobs have been destroyed over decades.
This explains the decline in popularity of the Democrats, once viewed as “worker-friendly”, and also why a figure like Trump could tap into the resentment against the establishment of a layer of the working class.
However, the 2022 midterm elections did not produce the victory of Trumpism that many expected, despite Biden’s low approval ratings. Many of Trump’s candidates were defeated. One of the main reasons was the reaction against the overturning of Roe vs Wade by the Supreme Court, which previously protected abortion rights.
It remains to be seen whether Trump wins the presidential nomination of the Republican Party, or whether he will be pushed aside by someone like Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, who has positioned himself as the “Trumpism without Trump” candidate. The stage may be set for a split in the Republican Party, if Trump does not get his way.
There is a widespread and deep-seated discontent, which is expressed in opinion poll after opinion poll.
More than half of Americans believe that “in the next few years, there will be civil war in the United States,” according to a poll by the University of California in 2022.
According to another poll, 85 percent of Americans believe the country is on the “wrong track”. 58 percent of American voters “believe their system of government does not work…” and so on.
This deep-seated mood of discontent found its most striking expression in the Black Lives Matter movement in 2021, which had the support of 75 percent of the population. But this radicalisation has been partially disoriented by so-called identity politics.
What goes by the name of “culture wars” are routinely used by both far right politicians and liberals to incite their supporters. This is a poison that can only be combated with class politics.
The class question
The re-emergence of the class question is expressed in the wave of unionisation drives in workplaces such as Amazon and Starbucks, but also in the strike waves that have affected the United States, such as the 2021 “striketober”. And strike activity continues to grow.
The latest figures reveal that 71 percent of Americans support the trade unions—their highest level of such support since the 1960s. And among the youth this figure is even higher. Even among the 18-34 year age group of Trump supporters, 71 percent have sympathy for union drives at Amazon.
The movement towards the unionisation of precarious workers, mainly young people, is the first real indication of a revival of the class struggle. These unionisation campaigns are driven by radical, young rank-and-file workers with little connection to the traditional trade union movement. They are a part of a new generation of militant class fighters being formed across the US, and rapidly moving to the left.
However, there is a deep and growing distrust of all the existing parties, especially the Democrats. It is this situation that explains the crisis of Biden’s presidency. He is seen as being incapable of solving any of the pressing problems faced by the working class and the youth, from inflation to the war in Ukraine, from the growing, devastating impact of climate change to the shortage of affordable housing.
It is this general feeling of malaise that explains the general distrust towards Biden and the Democrats among a wide layer of the population. The further evolution of the class struggle will open the way, at a certain point, to the emergence of a third party, based on the working class. That will represent a fundamental change in the whole situation.
China was previously one of the main motor forces propelling the world economy. But that has now reached its limits and is turning into its opposite. The bourgeois economists are watching developments in China with increasing alarm.
In the free markets of the West, financial crises can erupt suddenly, taking governments and investors by surprise. But in China, where the state still plays an important role in the economy, the government can deploy political and financial capital to a much higher degree, in order to mitigate or postpone a crisis.
This gives the appearance of stability, but this is an illusion. Since China has opted to go down the capitalist road and is now completely integrated in the capitalist world market it is subject to the same laws of capitalist market economics.
One of the key factors in saving the Chinese and the world economy from a major crisis after the 2008 crash was the huge amounts of money injected into the economy by the Chinese state.
This amounted to hundreds of billions of dollars, the majority part of which was channelled into infrastructure and development projects. What we are witnessing now is the end of that model. The Chinese economy is slowing. The meagre 2.8 percent growth rate in 2022 was the lowest level since 1990. In 2021 GDP grew at the rate of 8.1 percent.
A large part of this investment was dedicated to LGFVs (local government financing vehicles), which have built up a huge $7.8tn mountain of debts that threatens the stability of the entire Chinese economy. A vast amount of these debts are hidden, as part of the semi-legal shadow banking sector, which state owned enterprises and banks are heavily involved with.
That debt is the equivalent of nearly half of China’s total GDP in 2021, or about twice the size of Germany’s economy. With declining local government incomes, a devastating domino of defaults looks increasingly likely.
State intervention only serves to distort the market mechanism, but cannot remove its fundamental contradictions. It can delay a crisis, but when that eventually emerges – which, sooner or later it must – it will have an even more explosive, destructive and uncontrollable character.
A financial crash in China would have a devastating impact on the world economy as a whole. It would also create a very explosive situation inside China.
It has always been assumed that China needs an annual rate of growth of at least 8 percent, to maintain social stability. A rate of growth of 2.8 percent is therefore wholly inadequate. And a major economic crisis, triggered by a collapse of the property market, would set the scene for major social upheavals.
China faces a social explosion
It is in this context that we must see the 2022 congress of the Chinese “Communist” Party, where Xi Jinping strengthened his grip on power. By the old Party rules, Xi should have been stepping down as leader at that congress, but instead he is aiming to be leader for life.
It is no accident that Xi has been concentrating all power into his hands. China is a totalitarian state that combines capitalist market economics with elements of state control, inherited from the old deformed workers’ state.
In a totalitarian state, where all sources of information are strictly controlled and all forms of opposition ruthlessly suppressed, it is extremely difficult to know what is going on beneath the surface, until suddenly everything erupts.
We could see this in the struggle of the workers in the Foxconn mega-factory in Zhengzhou and the national anti-lockdown protests of November 2022. Bursting seemingly out of nowhere, these movements took an explosive form, and in the case of anti-lockdown protests, spread to hundreds of locations nationwide within a matter of hours. These events signal the beginnings of the breakdown of the social equilibrium in China.
The ruling elite, however, is very well aware of this. It has a powerful repressive apparatus and a huge network of spies and informers who are present in every factory, office, apartment block, school and university.
China now spends more every year on internal security than on national defence, and is increasing both. Xi and his clique are well aware of the enormous dangers of popular unrest and are taking steps to anticipate it. Nevertheless, their highly advanced online censorship regime was unable to prevent the spreading of information about the recent protests, despite the fact these only involved a few hundred people in each city. A mass movement of the working class would overwhelm this system.
To a great extent, that explains the crushing of the 2019 mass protest movement in Hong Kong. If it had been left, it would have soon spread to the mainland.
The magnificent scope of that movement – before it was hijacked and led into a blind alley by the pro-western liberal elite – gives one a slight idea of what a proletarian revolution in China will look like, only that it will be on a far vaster scale.
Napoleon Bonaparte is alleged to have said: “China is a sleeping dragon. Let China sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world.” There is much truth in that saying. But we should introduce a small change.
The Chinese proletariat is the biggest and strongest in the world. It is indeed like a sleeping dragon that is about to awake. And when that happens, it will indeed shake the world.
A huge social explosion is being prepared in China, although it is impossible to say when it will occur. But one thing one can predict with absolute certainty. It will occur when it is least expected.
And once it begins, there will be no stopping it. No amount of repression or intimidation will suffice. Just as when the Yangtze River overflows its banks, it will sweep all before it.
Europe: centrifugal tendencies
The unity of the EU could be taken for granted as long as boom conditions lasted. But those favourable conditions have disappeared, period. And the onset of economic and financial turmoil will lead to more protectionism and economic nationalism.
The fragile fabric of European unity will be tested to destruction in conditions of a deep economic downturn. The resulting centrifugal tendencies will accelerate the move away from globalisation and towards the further fragmentation of Europe and the wider world economy.
Southern Europe is the weakest link in the chain and is ripe for serious political disruption and instability. The continued financial weakness of Greece and Italy may yet trigger a collapse of the European monetary union. But even the strongest nations are being undermined. These tendencies will inevitably grow stronger, putting immense pressure on the fragile fabric of European unity.
Divisions in Europe
The crisis has exposed the deep fault lines that exist between the different member states of the EU. Even before the Ukraine war and the pandemic, the European economy was slowing and tensions between EU nations were growing. The most obvious indication of this was the departure of Britain, which has left many problems unresolved. But relations with Britain are not the only source of friction in the EU.
As a result of the war in Ukraine and the threat to Russian gas supplies to Europe, the EU is threatened with an economic catastrophe. The capitalists of every European state are struggling to take measures in their own interest.
European solidarity does not enter into this equation. It is a very simple case of “every man for himself and may the devil take the hindmost.”
The war in Ukraine has opened up serious divisions in the EU. As stated, Poland and the Baltic states are the most outspoken of the hawks. But Hungary’s Victor Orban has been an outspoken critic of the West’s sanctions against Russia, and Hungary enjoys excellent relations with the man in the Kremlin. Consequently, Hungary now has the lowest gas prices in Europe.
Orban commented with a heavy dose of irony: “In the question of energy, we are dwarfs and the Russians are giants. A dwarf sanctions a giant and we’re all amazed when the dwarf dies.” His remarks scandalised the EU chiefs. But they were not far wrong.
The German support package for energy companies immediately provoked a severe backlash from a number of EU nations, who are demanding a joint EU response to the energy crisis. The Hungarian prime minister warned that Germany’s planned support package amounts to “cannibalism”, threatening EU unity at a time when member states are under severe economic stress because of the war in Ukraine.
A top advisor to Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said: “It is an act, precise, deliberate, not agreed, not shared, not communicated, which undermines the reasons for the union.” Emanuel Macron was more diplomatic, but went to the heart of the matter when he said: “We cannot stick to national policies, because this creates distortions within the European continent.”
Nevertheless, the German finance minister, Robert Habeck, defending the country’s energy relief package, hit back with a stern warning: “If Germany were to experience a really deep recession, it would drag the whole of Europe down with it.”
In essence the conflict is over who pays, with Germany and the wealthier capitalist countries in the north of Europe not being prepared to foot the bill for the poorer capitalist economies in the south and east.
However, there are signs of growing discontent with the whole position. The Financial Times carried an article with the headline: “Ordinary Germans are paying: anti-war protests stretch across central Europe.” It reported an alarming growth of anti-war and pro-Russian demonstrations in Germany and other countries in Eastern Europe.
They were mostly numbered in hundreds at this stage. But as temperatures continue to drop, the anger of many more people will rise. The resulting social tensions will threaten the delicate political fabric of Germany.
In the Czech Republic as well, on 3 September 2022, between 70,000 and 100,000 people demonstrated in Wenceslas Square in Prague, calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Petr Fiala’s pro-NATO right-wing coalition government. Among other demands, protesters chanted slogans opposing the cost-of-living crisis and Czech involvement in NATO’s proxy war with Russia.
Nor can Italian support for the war be taken for granted. While Meloni immediately took the “responsible” pro-Western position towards the war, her coalition partners Salvini and Berlusconi have played a different tune, with Salvini calling for end to sanctions on Russia and Berlusconi openly flaunting his friendship with Vladimir Putin.
The world crisis of capitalism is catching up with Germany. The war in Ukraine provided a rude awakening for the German ruling class to the real fragility of German imperialism.
Germany was for decades the industrial powerhouse of Europe. Under the helm of Angela Merkel’s 15-year long tenure as Chancellor, German capitalism successfully exported its way out of the 2008 crisis.
Its competitiveness had been boosted at the expense of the working class by the Hartz IV labour counter-reforms and casualisation of labour relations, implemented in 2004 by Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democratic government.
The German ruling class also took advantage of capitalist restoration in Eastern Europe to expand its influence eastwards, which gave it a pool of cheap skilled labour.
This, combined with easy and unlimited access to supplies of cheap Russian oil and gas, gave the German capitalists an additional competitive edge over their rivals. The result was booming exports to the rest of the EU, the United States and China over the following decade, with Germany strengthening its position as a world trade super-power.
A relatively low level of state debt, control over the Euro and its prominent position in EU’s institutions gave the German ruling class margins of manoeuvre to preserve internal social stability, at the expense of the rest of Europe.
However, all the strengths of the “German model” are being transformed into their opposite. The deterioration of world trade in 2019, exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic and the subsequent dislocation of the supply chain of raw materials, components, chips and rising shipping costs undermined German production and exports of cars, machinery and chemicals.
The impact of the Ukraine war highlighted the fact that Germany does not have the sufficient economic or military muscle to pursue its own strategic interests when confronting bigger economic and military powers.
The €100bn package of additional military expense announced by German chancellor Olaf Sholz was an acknowledgement of this reality, but will only boost the profits of the industrial-military complex.
Relentless pressure from US imperialism forced the German capitalists to wrench themselves out of the carefully crafted network of Russian-German commercial ties, joint ventures and direct investments — at a catastrophic cost.
Despite German attempts to drag their feet and dodge measures that would have implied a direct confrontation with Russia, the dynamic of war inevitably exposed Germany’s vulnerable, dependent economy to severe Russian retaliation by means of throttling and then cutting altogether energy supplies.
This situation, coupled with the explosion of inflation is bound to have profound consequences on the political and social stability of German capitalism. The coming period will inevitably expose sharp class contradictions, which will undermine the class-collaborationist policies of Social Democracy and the trade union leaders.
Faced with quickly deteriorating standards of living, under the hammer of rampant inflation and rising energy costs, the working class will be forced to fight back. Every attempt by the trade union bureaucracy to stick to the old methods of social partnership will further undermine their authority.
Attempts to rally the working class in support of the capitalist class, like the words of former federal President Joachim Gauck calling on Germans to “freeze for freedom” are already sounding hollow. In this context, the anti-war demonstrations we have mentioned are a serious warning. The inevitable tendency towards a break up of social partnership and the explosion of the class struggle is implicit in this context, as the ruling class is running out of options.
The coming into office of Meloni’s arch-conservative government was a deeply worrying development for the Italian bourgeoisie and imperialism.
Italy, already in recession, with inflation at its highest level for almost 40 years, has a huge debt burden of €2.75 trillion, 152 percent of GDP, which risks becoming an even bigger burden with rising interest rates.
Meloni’s electoral success was due to the fact that she stood outside of Mario Draghi’s government. Draghi was the man of the bourgeois, but the problem was that all the parties in his coalition suffered heavy losses in the elections.
Meloni is a racist, a bigot and an extreme reactionary, but there is no “return to fascism” in Italy. Rather there is a growing mistrust towards all the parties, as confirmed by the 40 percent abstention rate.
The overall votes for the right-wing coalition did not go up, but a large number of votes shifted from Berlusconi and the Lega to Fratelli d’Italia. Only one out of six of the electorate actually voted for Fratelli d’Italia.
Immediately after the elections, Meloni did everything she could to reassure the European financial markets that she can be trusted and that she would continue with more-or-less the same policies that Draghi was carrying out. EU funding to stabilise the Italian economy is conditional on the government imposing austerity measures.
The present crisis, with soaring inflation, low wages, high unemployment, together with reactionary policies on questions such as abortion rights, immigration, etc., is a ready-made recipe for an explosion of the class struggle and protests of workers and youth.
As in all the major capitalist countries, the French government spent huge sums to avert a major crisis during the pandemic, but now someone has to pay, and it is clearly going to be the French working class.
But the French bourgeois have faced a militant response from the workers every time a serious attempt was made to remove past gains. When Macron was first elected, he was facing the Yellow Vests movement within one year of coming into office. But he is now even weaker.
His real active support in the first round was barely 20 percent of the total electorate of France. Instead of a strengthening of the centre, there is a sharp polarisation to the left (Mélenchon), and to the right (Le Pen).
The growing instability was revealed in the parliamentary elections just a few months later, where Macron failed to win an absolute majority in parliament. The result is a weak government, based on a fractured parliament, under huge pressure to deliver the programme required by the capitalist class.
This comes at a time of deepening economic crisis, with inflation continuing to rise, with hikes in interest rates pushing up mortgage costs for millions of families, and the threat of rising unemployment as the world crisis of capitalism impacts on France.
An indication of the changing mood could be observed in the October 2022, weeks-long oil workers’ strike led by the FNIC, the most left-wing of the unions that make up the CGT. The government tried to introduce measures to defeat the strike, but the oil workers had the support of the overwhelming majority of the population, in spite of the fuel shortages caused by the strike.
The trade union leaders called days of action to allow the workers to let off steam in order to avoid launching an all-out fight against the government. The workers understand that in the present situation, this is totally inadequate. The real mood within wide layers of the French working class is expressed by the slogan raised on demonstrations for a general strike.
The trade union leadership will not be able to hold the movement back indefinitely. The oil workers’ strike was an anticipation of what we can expect in the coming period on a far bigger scale. A repetition of May 1968 is implicit in the whole situation
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett once said that “only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” This description fits the present position of Britain admirably.
Not so long ago, Britain was seen as the most stable country politically and socially, and probably the most conservative country in Europe. Now it is being turned into its opposite.
Rishi Sunak was “elected” leader when Liz Truss was ejected, following the financial debacle. He entered Number 10 Downing Street, promising to “fix” the “mistakes” of his predecessor.
But the urgent need to balance the books and eliminate the yawning hole in the public finances inevitably means that the people of Britain face a new period of austerity, cuts and attacks on living standards.
Millions of British households are being forced to choose between keeping the lights on and putting food on the table. The glaring difference between rich and poor has never been so obvious as it is now. And this is stoking the fires of resentment and anger.
There are many indications of a change in consciousness in Britain, such as the fact that 47 percent of Tory voters are in favour of nationalising water, electricity and gas, which is in direct contradiction to the free market policies of the Tory government.
After many years of unprecedented attacks on pay and living standards, the workers are in no mood to accept any further impositions. The contradictions between the classes grow more acute every day.
The mood of anger is reflected in an ever-increasing number of strikes: railway workers, dockers, mail workers, refuse collectors and even criminal lawyers have already struck. And they are followed by others like the teachers and nurses.
There is increasing talk of coordinated industrial action. Will there be a general strike in Britain? It is impossible to predict this. All one can say with any degree of certainty is that neither the government nor the trade union leaders want it, but since all the objective conditions exist for such an outcome, they could fall into it.
The reactivation of the economic struggle is an important development. But it has its limitations. Trotsky pointed out that even the stormiest strike cannot solve the most fundamental problems of society, let alone the ones that are defeated.
Even when the workers succeed in winning a wage increase, it is rapidly cancelled out by further price rises. Therefore, at some point, the movement will have to acquire a political expression. But how is this to be achieved?
Labour and the Tories
For a while, the Labour Party had veered sharply to the left under Jeremy Corbyn. In reality, the ruling class had lost control of both major parties: Labour to the left reformists and the Tories to the right-wing Brexiteer chauvinists.
As a result of the shameful capitulation of the Lefts, the right wing has succeeded in regaining control of the Labour Party – something that even the most optimistic bourgeois observers considered to be almost impossible.
Now the Tories are discredited and in crisis. They are split along several different lines and increasingly demoralised, turning on one another as the pressures of the crisis stack up, precisely at the time when the ruling class needs a united government to carry through its attacks on the workers.
The policies of the new government represent a combination of cuts and tax increases that will impact not just the workers but wide layers of the middle class. It is a finished recipe for class struggle. And whatever the Tories do now will be wrong.
The new Tory administration is trying to avoid calling an election because they know they would be annihilated. Labour would come to power – not because of Starmer, but in spite of him.
For his part, Starmer is not very enthusiastic about heading a majority Labour government, since that would deprive him of any excuse for not carrying out policies in the interests of the working class. His policy is to dampen expectations and promise as little as possible.
It is not even excluded that there could be an open split in the Tory Party, with the right-wing faction splitting away to form a new Brexiteer party, possibly together with Nigel Farage. That could lead to the formation of a “government of national unity”, with Labour in alliance with the Liberals and Tory moderates.
One way or another, the working class will have to relearn some painful lessons in the school of Sir Keir and the right-wing clique that now controls the Labour Party, who are bourgeois politicians in all but name.
The right wing has carried out a thorough purge of the Party, in order to prevent any possibility of a repetition of the Corbyn affair. But once Labour is in government, it will come under pressure from both big business and the working class.
As a faithful servant of the bankers and capitalists, Starmer will not hesitate to carry out policies in their interests. But any attempt to implement a policy of cuts and austerity will provoke an explosion of anger, which eventually will find an expression inside the Labour Party, beginning with the unions, which, in spite of everything, still retain their link to the party.
Great events will be necessary to force people to come to terms with the fact that it is no longer possible to return to what existed before. Big opportunities will open up for the Marxist tendency under these conditions.
Crisis of the ruling class
The ruling class has got the leaders it deserves. It is no accident that everywhere there is a crisis of leadership of the ruling class, shown by the open splits at the top, in the USA, in Britain, in Brazil, in Pakistan.
But the reasons for this crisis of leadership is rooted in the situation itself. The present crisis is so deep that it practically excludes any room for manoeuvre at the top. As Lenin observed, a man on the edge of a cliff does not reason. Even the most intelligent and capable leaders would find it impossible to extricate themselves from this morass.
Even so, the quality of the leadership still plays an important role. In a war, sometimes an army is compelled to retreat. But with good generals, an army can retreat in good order, preserving most of its troops to fight another day, whereas bad generals will turn a retreat into a rout.
It is sufficient to point to Britain at the present time to show the correctness of this statement.
Crisis of bourgeois democracy
Our epoch – the epoch of imperialism – is above all characterised by the domination of finance capital. Every government, immediately upon entering office, is informed that the finance minister must be “acceptable to the markets”.
The experience of the short-lived Truss government in Britain served to illustrate the entirely fictitious nature of formal bourgeois democracy in the present epoch. In the case of Britain, the markets chose both the finance minister and the prime minister, thus sparing the British people the painful necessity of actually electing anybody.
Behind the smiling mask of liberalism, there is the iron fist of monopoly capitalism and the dictatorship of the bankers. This can be used at any time to destroy any government that does not obey the dictates of Capital.
That obviously applies to governments of the Left, as in the case of Greece. But it can even apply to those of the Right, as Ms. Truss soon discovered to her cost. A government that was pursuing policies the bourgeois did not like was removed without contemplation.
Here we have very clear proof of who is really in charge. The Market rules. The rest is just so much deception and tomfoolery. This is perfectly natural. Even in the most favourable conditions, bourgeois democracy was always a very fragile plant.
It could only exist where the ruling class was able to grant certain concessions to the working class, which, to a certain extent and for a limited period, served to ameliorate the conditions of the masses and therefore blunt the sharp edge of the class struggle and prevent it from exceeding certain limits.
The ‘rules of the game’ had to be accepted by everyone, and the existing institutions (parliament, the politicians, the parties, the state, the police, the judiciary, the ‘free press’, etc.) enjoyed a measure of authority and respect.
For a long time in the advanced capitalist countries of Europe and North America, this model was successful in the main. But now conditions have changed, and the entire edifice of formal bourgeois democracy is being tested to the point of destruction.
Wherever one looks, one sees clear evidence of the sharpening of class contradictions that are tearing at the fabric of society. The centrifugal tendencies are manifested in the political sphere in the collapse of the political centre, which is the clearest expression of social polarisation.
The whole of Latin America resembles a volcano waiting to explode. Its economies are being punished by the revaluation of the US dollar, which raises the cost of their existing debt and makes further financing more expensive.
This can lead to a generalised debt crisis like that of the 1980s. Perhaps the most vulnerable of the Latin American economies is now Argentina. But several countries are already on the verge of default.
Latin America was the region of the world worst affected by the social and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which came after a period of economic stagnation. Prior to the pandemic, we witnessed mass movements in several countries, which acquired insurrectionary proportions in several of them, notably Ecuador and Chile in October and November 2019.
The lockdowns partially cut across that, but now the fundamental processes are reasserting themselves again. There was the historic movement of the national strike in Colombia in 2021 and then another national strike in Ecuador in 2022.
The masses returned to the streets in great numbers in Haiti and other countries. If the working class did not take power in Chile, Ecuador and Colombia, it was only because of the absence of a revolutionary leadership.
In the previous period, during the commodities boom, Evo Morales, Correa, Nestor Kirchner and even Chavez, were able to a certain extent to implement social policies. But that came to an end in 2014 with the slowdown in China.
Now, governments that are politically similar will be faced with a deep economic crisis of capitalism instead. Their room for manoeuvre will be much reduced. This will also be the case with the Lula government in Brazil.
Unemployment in Brazil stands officially at around 11 million, but the real number of jobless is much higher. The latest figures show that around 30 percent of the population lives in poverty, a phenomenon that significantly increased during the pandemic. And with inflation growing – now standing at around 8 percent – this situation is destined to get worse.
The population is extremely polarised, with growing poverty at one end and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a small minority of super-rich at the other. This polarisation is reflected in the political situation. In the 2022 elections, the poorest communities in the north and northeast voted massively for Lula, while in the richer centre and south, Bolsonaro prevailed.
However, because of the openly class-collaborationist position of Lula and his shift to the right during the election campaign, Bolsonaro was able to pick up a significant layer of the working-class electorate.
Already, in 2018, it was Dilma’s austerity that prepared the victory of Bolsonaro, who could demagogically present himself as the candidate of ‘the people’. This element was present in the 2022 elections too, and it explains why Bolsonaro did a lot better than pollsters originally predicted.
Lula’s campaign lacked any content that could seriously appeal to workers and the poor on a class basis.
The workers used the elections to free themselves from the hated Bolsonaro. But these hopes will be dashed by the harsh reality of the crisis of capitalism in Brazil. Once they get an experience of Lula in power in a period of serious capitalist crisis, they will begin to draw the conclusion that they have to start taking things into their own hands, with strikes, street protests and youth movements, as we have seen in many other countries.
Failure of ‘progressive’ governments
‘Left’ and ‘progressive’ governments in power have starkly revealed their limitations in a period of severe economic crisis of capitalism. We see this with the Fernandez and Kirchner government in Argentina, which has signed a deal with the IMF that involves severe austerity policies.
In Chile, Boric has continued the policy of militarisation of the Mapuche areas and has carried out a fiscal policy of cuts in order to reduce the deficit. In Mexico, Lopez Obrador has made all sorts of agreements with the US on migration, has brought the Army onto the streets to deal with security, etc.
In Peru, Castillo made one concession after another to the ruling class and the multinationals. This has only served to undermine his own support, without appeasing the ruling class, which has now removed him altogether.
All these governments had a common idea: that of ‘anti-neoliberalism’. This is the utopian notion that one can rule in the interest of workers and peasants within the limits of capitalism. But ‘neoliberalism’ is not a political choice. Rather, it is merely the expression of the impasse of present-day capitalism on a world scale.
It is not possible to implement a different set of policies without challenging the domination of the ruling class and imperialism. That is the fatal weakness of all these so-called ‘progressive’ governments. It is this central contradiction that prepares the ground for new mass social explosions in Latin America. Revolutionary uprisings are on the order of the day.
Cuba at the crossroads
Cuba is faced with the most difficult situation it has seen since the revolution in 1959. From an economic point of view, we see the combined blows of Trump tightening US sanctions, the impact of COVID-19 on tourism, high prices of energy, all of which were added on top of the decades-long US blockade, and the mismanagement and inefficiency of bureaucratic rule.
The situation is then further aggravated by the pro-capitalist policies of the Cuban bureaucracy, which, desperate to find a way out from the impasse, is looking towards China and Vietnam.
This is the background against which anti-government protests may develop in a way not seen since 1994. Now the situation is worse. After 10 years of discussing economic reforms, the situation has not improved but has worsened.
A section of the population has lost all hope. Tens of thousands are emigrating, and others have lost all trust in the government and the bureaucracy. In this context we have seen protests, which are the biggest since 1994. However, it is necessary to analyse the content of these demonstrations.
In the absence of a conscious revolutionary leadership, the understandable discontent of the masses can present a favourable breeding ground for popular support for capitalist counter-revolution.
On the other side, there is a significant section of the population that supports the revolution, that has a strong anti-imperialist feeling, and that rejects the counter-revolution. Amongst this layer there is also growing criticism towards the bureaucracy.
Our task is to patiently explain to the most advanced elements amongst them that the only way forward for the defence of the revolution is the struggle for workers’ democracy and proletarian internationalism.
Large parts of Africa are now experiencing a period of extreme turbulence and instability. About 278 million people – approximately one-fifth of the total population – went hungry in 2021, an increase of 50 million people since 2019 according to UN figures. Based on current trends, this is projected to rise to 310 million by 2030.
This is the background for the general social and political instability and turbulence that has spread throughout the continent. There have been mass movements, coups, wars and civil wars in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea and the entire Sahel area.
These conflicts have been a partial driving force behind the record 100 million people forced to leave their homes by 2022. Conflicts in Ukraine, Myanmar, Yemen, and Syria have also contributed to this figure. However, the problem of forced migration is particularly acute in sub-Saharan Africa due to the environmental crisis. According to a recent report, two thirds of the 27 countries facing “catastrophic ecological threats” are in this part of the world, and all but one of the 52 countries in sub-Saharan Africa face “extreme water stress”. The combined pressures of environmental crisis, conflict, and forced migration will have an increasingly destabilising effect across the continent and beyond.
Nigeria, the continent’s largest economy, is by no means shielded from this instability. In spite of the country’s vast oil and mineral resources, 70 million people still live in extreme poverty.
The corrupt and degenerate ruling elite is completely incapable of solving any of the problems of Nigerian capitalism. The two main parties of the country, the ruling All Progressives Congress Party and the main opposition party, the PDP, are thoroughly discredited among wide layers of society.
In 2020, the country was shaken by the mass ‘End SARS’ youth movement. This marvellous movement, largely led by the youth, started as a reaction to the killing of a young man at Ughelli Delta by the State Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian police force.
The movement spread like wildfire to almost every state in the southern part of the country. This movement expressed the accumulated anger, frustration and dissatisfaction of the Nigerian youth, who have been the worst hit by the crisis of capitalism.
But while the movement eventually died down, none of the underlying problems leading to it have been solved. The world economic crisis and surging inflation, and with millions more set to join the ranks of the poor, the stage is being prepared for new rounds of class struggle on an even higher level.
South Africa is the key country on the African continent. It has a relatively well-developed economy and advanced infrastructure. It is one of the world’s largest mineral exporters. It also has well-established manufacturing, financial, energy and communications sectors. Above all, from a Marxist standpoint, it has a numerous and powerful proletariat with a marvellous tradition of struggle.
All the elements necessary for the creation of a prosperous country are present. Yet the majority of the people lead a precarious existence. Real unemployment stands at a staggering 10.2 million people and half of the population lives in poverty.
For decades, the ANC was a pillar of stability for South African capitalism. But years of corruption scandals and attacks on the working class has corroded its authority and plunged it into its deepest crisis ever.
While its support has been declining, internally it has descended into never-ending wars of attrition between various bourgeois factions, which are splitting the party apart, while separating it more and more from the masses who used to see it as theirs.
The particular historical development of the class struggle and of the political forces in South Africa means that the ruling class does not have a second party to lean upon.
As the economic conditions prepare yet another upsurge in the class struggle, the ruling class will find it harder to use the weight of the ANC leaders to hold the movement back.
Pakistan is facing an acute financial crisis and is at risk of defaulting on its $130bn of foreign debt. Foreign reserves have fallen to one of their lowest levels in history. Inflation is at its highest level since Independence. Food and fuel inflation is over 45 percent.
And on top of this, we have the impact of the most catastrophic floods in the nation’s history. Millions of people are living through a dramatic situation of hunger, lack of drinking water, homelessness and abject poverty.
Prime minister Sharif has turned to the IMF for rescue packages, but the severe damage inflicted by widespread flooding means that even IMF loans are nowhere near enough to plug the hole in Pakistan’s finances.
Meanwhile, the regime is split and in crisis, with rival factions fighting each other like cats in a sack, while the real power remains firmly in the hands of the generals.
The current government led by Shahbaz Sharif is concerned mainly with removing Imran Khan’s party from the provincial assemblies and tightening its own grip on power.
Khan’s desperate attempt to re-establish his position was blocked by the military, who tried to remove him from the scene by the simple expedient of a (failed) assassination.
This has led to widespread mistrust of the bulk of the population towards all the parties, which they correctly see as so many gangsters. Given all these factors, an eruption of mass protests like those in Sri Lanka in 2022 cannot be ruled out at all.
Commenting on the present catastrophic situation, Khan himself said, “For six months I have been witnessing a revolution taking over the country… [The] only question is will it be a soft one through the ballot box or a destructive one through bloodshed?”
His words may prove to be more prophetic than he realises.
Reason becomes Unreason
When most people contemplate the present situation, they conclude that the world has gone crazy. The masses feel in their heart and soul that something has gone wrong, that something is not working, that the “time is out of joint”, to quote Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But they do not know what that is.
What they mean by this is that they cannot find any rational explanation for what is occurring. In a sense, when they attribute everything to a kind of collective madness, they are not wrong. But it is an insanity that is built into the DNA of the capitalist system. In the words of Hegel, Reason becomes Unreason.
But in another, deeper sense, they are wrong. They believe that what is happening cannot be understood and they despair.
But like the universe in general, all the processes we observe have a rational explanation and can be understood. In order to acquire such an understanding, it is necessary to possess an adequate method. And that can only be the method of dialectical thinking: the method of Marxism.
What is described here are merely the external manifestations of an existential crisis of capitalism.
The capitalist system is no longer capable of using all the productive forces – including the labour power of the working class – that it has brought into being. This is an indication of the limits that the capitalist system has reached.
This does not mean that the capitalist system is about to collapse. Lenin explained that the capitalists will always find a way out of even the deepest crisis. The question is: at what cost to humanity, and to the working class in particular?
A deep slump would see unemployment reach historic proportions. This will have the profoundest revolutionary implications. This is already understood by the strategists of Capital.
Late last September, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned international leaders of a looming “winter of global discontent” in a world beset by multiple crises from the Ukraine war to a warming climate.
“Trust is crumbling, inequalities are exploding, our planet is burning,” Guterres said as he opened the annual General Assembly. That was a fair assessment of the global situation. But he was not alone in arriving at a gloomy perspective. The Verisk Maplecroft risk consultancy wrote in a report on 2 September 2022:
“The world is facing an unprecedented rise in civil unrest as governments of all stripes grapple with the impacts of inflation on the prices of staple foods and energy.”
“For governments unable to spend their way out of the crisis, repression is likely to be the main response to anti-government protests,” Verisk Maplecroft’s report reads.
“But suppression comes with its own risks, leaving disgruntled populations with fewer mechanisms for channelling their dissent at a time of growing frustration with the status quo. In countries where there are few effective mechanisms for channelling popular discontent, such as a free media, functioning unions and independent courts, the threshold for populations to take to the streets is likely to come down.”
Objectively speaking, the capitalist system can no longer afford to guarantee the reforms that were conquered by the working class in the decades that followed the Second World War.
The bourgeoisie is now faced with an insurmountable problem: how to get the working class to accept the liquidation of these gains? That is proving to be so difficult that the ruling class is compelled to continue to sustain a system that is unsustainable.
But is it correct to say, as some do, that reforms are now impossible? No. That is incorrect. If it is threatened with losing everything the ruling class will soon make reforms – even reforms they “can’t afford”.
During the post-war period, the bourgeoisie in the advanced capitalist countries could afford to make concessions because they had built a layer of fat. Those reserves could be drawn upon in times of crisis, when the survival of the system was in danger.
And even if that proves insufficient, they can resort to borrowing, creating massive debts, which they can place on the shoulders of future generations to pay. And that’s just what they did during the pandemic, because they were terrified of the potential social and political consequences of a general economic collapse.
So they resorted to Keynesian methods, which the economists had previously consigned to the dustbin of history. They spent eye-watering sums of money during the pandemic. But they were left with huge debts that, sooner or later, must be paid back. That remains the case.
What one can say is that the bourgeoisie cannot afford to make any meaningful, long-lasting reforms. What they give with one hand, they take back with the other. Inflation rapidly cancels out any wage increases. And the accumulation of debt merely stores up even greater contradictions for the future.
Inflation will lead to a wave of strikes and an intensification of the economic struggle.
A deep slump, by contrast, would lead to a reduction of strike activity, but the threat of factory closures can lead to occupations and sit-ins, and there would be a swing towards the political front.
It cannot be ruled out that in the end, faced with the opposition of the masses to austerity, the bourgeois can be compelled to retreat, opting instead for an indirect attack.
Both inflation and deflation are attacks on the working class. The difference is that inflation is an indirect attack, whereas deflation (unemployment) is a direct attack. From the standpoint of the workers, it is a choice between a slow death by fire or a quick death through hanging. Neither is acceptable. And both will lead to an explosion of class struggle.
In a recent report, the World Bank predicted that, unless there was a sharp upturn in the world economy, an estimated 574 million people, or about 7 percent of the world’s population, would still be living on just $2.15 a day by 2030, mostly in Africa.
By contrast, the rich are getting ever more obscenely rich. A recent article in Bloomberg wrote of the prospects for a new phenomenon called “trillion-dollar trust fund babies”, which is bound to appear in the next decade. These are children of the super-rich who will be richer than some small countries from birth.
“How can you talk about equality of opportunity”, the article pointed out, “when some people inherit fortunes that outstrip the endowments of entire universities? And how can you laud the work ethic when we have an ever-expanding permanent leisure class?”
The reality is what Marx described in Capital: “Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole, i.e., on the side of the class that produces its own product in the form of capital.”
The obscene super-profits announced by Shell and other big energy companies, precisely at a time when millions of people are struggling to survive, provoke feelings of deep and lasting injustice and bitterness.
These blatant contradictions are noted by the masses, stoking the burning fires of resentment and hatred for these rich parasites that, in turn, will fuel the class struggle. The whole situation is pregnant with revolutionary implications. We can already see clear evidence of this.
If you wish to see what a revolution is like, just look at the spontaneous popular insurrection in Sri Lanka. Here we saw the colossal potential power of the masses. And it struck without any warning, like a thunderbolt from a clear blue sky.
If anyone doubted the ability of the masses to make a revolution, this was a resounding answer. The events in Sri Lanka showed that, when the masses lose their fear, no amount of repression can stop them.
With no leadership, no organisation and no clear programme, the masses took to the streets and overthrew the government with the ease of a man swatting a mosquito. But Sri Lanka also shows us something else.
Power was lying in the streets, waiting for somebody to pick it up. It would have been sufficient for the leaders of the protests to say: “We have the power now. We are the government.”
But those words were never spoken. The masses quietly left the presidential palace and the old power was allowed to return. The fruits of victory were handed back to the old oppressors and the parliamentary charlatans.
Power was in the hands of the masses, but it was allowed to slip through their fingers. That is an unpalatable truth. But it is the truth.
The conclusion is inescapable. Without correct leadership, the revolution can only succeed with great difficulty, and most often, it cannot succeed at all.
Further striking confirmation of this was provided by the inspiring revolutionary uprising in Iran. It followed the death in police custody of Masha Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, arrested by the hated morality police allegedly for “not wearing the hijab correctly”.
But that was not an isolated event. There have been many such deaths in Iran. On this occasion, however, a critical point was reached where quantity was transformed into quality.
The explosion that ensued immediately spread to every major city, extending even to small towns and villages, which had never before witnessed any demonstrations. The protesters were overwhelmingly young people, a large layer being girls, not just from universities but also from the schools.
The security forces responded with brutal repression, which became ever harsher as the movement grew. In the numerous violent clashes between the youth and the forces of repression, hundreds were killed and thousands more arrested.
In response, student strikes spread to over a hundred universities and many schools. The most striking aspect of these protests was the complete lack of fear on the part of very young people, especially very young girls.
Schoolgirls in Iran began waving their headscarves in the air and chanting against clerical authorities. What an inspiration this was! Their chants frequently had an openly revolutionary content, calling for the overthrow of the regime, and “Death to the Supreme Leader!”
The brutal reaction of the regime has not only radicalised the youth but also workers’ organisations, with many going on strike. This list includes truck drivers, the Council for Organising Protests of Oil Contract Workers, the Haft Tappeh workers, the Tehran Bus Company workers, the Teachers’ Coordinating Committee, among others.
Revolutionary youth committees were set up across the country, along with calls for a general strike, which have been supported by the organisations cited above, as well as most of the independent unions. There was a series of strike waves of the small shopkeepers, the bazaaris, who in the past were one of the most solid pillars of the regime. But the industrial workers have not yet moved in a decisive way, and this is the Achilles’ heel of the movement.
All this was very similar to the movements that occurred before the revolutionary upheaval of 1979. But it is not clear if the present movement will go on to a higher stage.
The workers show great sympathy and support for the rebellion of the youth, but if the uprising remains isolated to the youth, it cannot succeed.
A movement such as this one cannot remain as it is for much longer without reaching the critical point where it will either succeed in overthrowing the regime, or else suffer a defeat. As in Sri Lanka, the most decisive question is the subjective factor – the revolutionary leadership.
The subjective factor
The intensification of the class struggle follows from this analysis with the same inevitability as night follows day. But the outcome of class struggle can never be predicted in advance, because we are dealing with a struggle of living forces.
As we have explained previously, there are many analogies between war between the classes and war between nations. In both cases there are objective and subjective factors involved. And the subjective factor most often plays a decisive role.
We refer to things like the morale and fighting spirit of the troops and, above all, the quality of the leadership. The present period will be characterised as a period of intensified class struggles and mass uprisings. But what is missing is revolutionary leadership.
The subjective factor is as important in revolutions as it is in any war. How often in the history of wars has a large force of determined and courageous soldiers been led to defeat by cowardly and incompetent officers when confronted by a far smaller force of disciplined and trained professional soldiers led by bold and effective officers?
It is this factor that is missing, or extremely weak at the present time. The forces of genuine Marxism have been thrown back for decades on account of historical factors that we need not explain here. And the degeneration of the reformist and former Stalinist leaders has reached a low point that would have seemed unthinkable in the past.
Therefore, although we can predict with absolute confidence that the workers will rise in revolt in one country after another, we cannot express the same degree of confidence with regard to the outcome of these struggles.
Failure of the Left
Let us take a few examples, starting with Sanders in the USA and Corbyn in Britain. They were very confused and obviously had many limitations. That was very clear to the Marxists from the outset. But what is clear to us is not necessarily clear to the masses.
Nevertheless, from our point of view, both of them had great symptomatic significance. They revealed something very important. They both acted as a catalyst that brought to the surface a deep mood of discontent with the political establishment and present society that existed in the masses, but which had until then remained latent because it lacked a point of reference.
The radical-sounding speeches of Sanders and Corbyn acted as a powerful magnet that allowed incoherent, embryonic, revolutionary instincts to express themselves in an organised way. That is a very important fact, which has important implications for the future.
General questioning of the capitalist system came to the surface, and the word ‘socialism’ came back onto the agenda, which was something very positive. Yet, in the final analysis, these proved to be only accidental figures who came up against their own limitations and were destroyed by them. As a result, the mass movements that sprang up around them are now dead.
One could say the same thing about Hugo Chavez, although he went further than them and achieved far more. Whether he might have evolved further had he not died prematurely is a question that can never be answered. But in his case also, the lack of political clarity played a fatal role, as subsequent developments in Venezuela have clearly revealed.
The cases of Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece provide even clearer examples of the disastrous role of the so-called Left in politics. The closer these leaders come to power, the more timid, cowardly and treacherous they become.
Their radical rhetoric merely serves as a cover for the fact that they never actually question the existence of the capitalist system, and therefore, when they find themselves in government, they are compelled to operate on the basis of its laws.
The inevitable result is betrayal and the demoralisation of their base. The conclusion is self-evident. With the present leadership, there will be one defeat after another.
But that is only one side of the process. Gradually, beginning with the most advanced layers, and in particular the youth, the workers will learn from their defeats. They will begin to understand the real role of left reformism and strive to go beyond it.
In many countries, we have seen the spontaneous emergence of groups of young people calling themselves communists. This is a very significant development, to which we must pay careful attention.
Similarities and differences
The economic conditions in the coming period will be far more similar to the 1930s than those that followed the Second World War. But there are important differences, mainly because the social equation has changed.
The social reserves of reaction are far weaker than then, and the specific weight of the working class is far greater. The peasantry has largely disappeared in the advanced capitalist countries, while wide layers of the former middle class (professional people, white collar workers, teachers, university professors, civil servants, doctors and nurses) have drawn closer to the proletariat and become unionised.
The students, who in the past provided the shock troops for fascism, have swung sharply to the left and are open to revolutionary ideas. Above all, the working class, in most countries, has not suffered serious defeats for decades. Its forces are largely intact.
Furthermore, the ruling class burnt its fingers with fascism in the past and is not likely to go down that road easily. What we see is a growing political polarisation, to the right, but also to the left. There are plenty of right-wing demagogues around and some even get elected into power. However, that is not the same as a fascist regime, which is based on the mass mobilisation of the enraged petty bourgeois, and their use as a battering ram to destroy the workers’ organisations.
That means that the ruling class will face serious difficulties when they try to push things back and take back the gains of the past. The depth of the crisis means that they will have to try to cut and cut to the bone. But that will provoke explosions in one country after another.
Women and youth
Out of this chaos, a new level of consciousness is arising. There is an instinctive feeling among ordinary people, especially young people and women that “there is something badly wrong with this society”, that “we are living in an unjust world”.
To some extent, that is the case with workers generally. Merciless pressure has been exerted on workers to increase the amount produced and reduce the time needed to produce it. Wages have consistently lagged behind productivity gains. In America, real wages up until recently had not increased for a period of something like 40 years. And with the return of high inflation, US real wages are once again in decline.
But it is most obvious, and most advanced, in the case of young people and women who must bear the brunt of the crisis of capitalism. They are the most exploited and oppressed layers of the class.
In one country after another, there have been big mobilisations of women against the prohibition of abortion: from the USA, to Catholic Poland and Ireland. Argentina and Chile have also seen mass movements for abortion rights. In Mexico, where the inhuman and barbaric treatment of women has reached epidemic proportions, there have also been massive movements to protest violence against women. This has also been a factor leading to political radicalisation in Spain.
In this context, the most elementary democratic slogans can rapidly acquire an openly revolutionary content.
The clearest expression of the revolt of women was in Iran, where the movement of huge numbers of young girls moved rapidly from protests against the obligatory wearing of the hijab into the demand for the revolutionary overthrow of a monstrously oppressive regime.
That indicates that there is the beginning of an entirely new level of consciousness. In these circumstances, there is a profound sensitivity among these layers to any manifestation of injustice. This includes the question of racism, as we saw with the Black Lives Matter uprising.
In all countries, the youth are at the forefront of the struggle. This is no accident. Events have shown that a growing number of young people are prepared to come onto the streets to protest against capitalism.
Once again on consciousness
It would be a fundamental mistake to assume that the majority of workers see things in the same way as the Marxists. To see the whole historical process is one thing, but how the masses understand that process is another, entirely different, thing.
The consciousness of the working class is powerfully influenced by changes in the objective situation. Trotsky explained this brilliantly in an important article called “The Third Period of the Comintern’s Errors.”
For some sectarians, this question simply does not arise. For them, the working class is always ready to revolt. That is for them a constant that has nothing to do with changes in objective conditions. But that is not at all the case.
Trotsky sharply criticised the idea put forward by the Stalinists in the notorious ‘Third Period’, and which is still repeated by some foolish ultra-lefts today, that the masses are always ready to revolt, and that it is only the conservative bureaucratic apparatuses of the labour movement that prevent them from doing so.
Trotsky pours scorn on this idea and it is worth quoting his words at length:
“The radicalisation of the masses is described as a continuous process: today, the masses are more revolutionary than they were yesterday, and tomorrow will be more revolutionary than today. Such a mechanical idea does not correspond to the real process of development of the proletariat or of capitalist society as a whole.
“The social democratic parties, especially before the war, had imagined the future as a continual increase in the social democratic vote, which would grow systematically until the very moment of taking power. For a vulgar or pseudo-revolutionary, this perspective still essentially retains its force, only instead of a continual increase in the number of votes, he talks of the continual radicalisation of the masses. The mechanical conception is sanctioned also by the Bukharin-Stalin programme of the Comintern.
“It goes without saying that from the point of view of our epoch as a whole the development of the proletariat advances in the direction of the revolution. But this is not a steady progression, any more than the objective process of the deepening of capitalist contradictions. The reformists see only the ups of the capitalist road. The formal ‘revolutionaries’ see only its downs. But a Marxist sees the road as a whole, all of its conjunctural ups and downs, without for a moment losing sight of its main direction – the catastrophe of wars, the explosion of revolutions.
“The political mood of the proletariat does not change automatically in one and the same direction. The upturns in the class struggle are followed by downturns, the flood tides by ebbs, depending upon complicated combinations of material and ideological conditions, national and international. An upsurge of the masses, if not utilised at the right moment or misused, reverses itself and ebbs into a period of decline, from which the masses recover, faster or slower, under the influence of new objective stimuli.
“Our epoch is characterised by exceptionally sharp periodic fluctuations, by extraordinarily abrupt turns in the situation, and this places on the leadership unusual obligations in the matter of a correct orientation.
“The activity of the masses, properly understood, expresses itself in different ways, depending upon different conditions. The masses may, at certain periods, be completely absorbed in economic struggles and show very little interest in political questions. Or, suffering a series of defeats in economic struggles, the masses may abruptly turn their attention to politics. Then – depending upon the concrete circumstances and the past experience of the masses – their political activity may go in the direction of either purely parliamentary or extra-parliamentary struggle.” (Leon Trotsky, Writings, 1930, p. 28)
These lines are extremely important because they show that from general statements about the epoch it is impossible to deduce the stage in which the consciousness of the proletariat finds itself, or the concrete movement of the class. We see here very clearly the method of Trotsky, which does not proceed from abstract formulae (‘the new Epoch’) but from concrete facts.
All kinds of things combine to shape the consciousness of the masses in the advanced capitalist countries, not just the present situation or even the situation in the last decade, but the kind of conditions that were created over a period of decades following the Second World War. That is particularly true of the older generation. The mentality of the youth is a different matter for a separate discussion.
The consciousness of workers in Europe and the USA has been moulded for decades by what was at least a period of relative prosperity. On 15 November 1857, Engels complained in a letter to Marx:
“The masses must have got damned lethargic after such long prosperity.” And he added: “Chronic pressure is necessary for a while in order to warm up the populations. The proletariat will then strike better, with better consciousness of its cause and more unity…”
The working class in general possesses a colossal ability to put up with things. They will tolerate even bad conditions for quite some time before they become absolutely intolerable. It takes time for quantity to change into quality. And it takes time for consciousness, which is inherently conservative, to catch up with a changing reality.
For a whole period, there was low inflation, which meant that, even though the rate of exploitation was increasing, the workers’ wages could buy more than before. Workers were able to buy cars, big television sets and other commodities, the price of which was falling as the result of technological advances and increased labour productivity.
Low interest rates also produced an unparalleled expansion of credit. Millions of people were able to buy things that they really could not afford, but only by getting deeper and deeper into debt.
Seeing how bad things are now, and looking back, it is too easy to have a false perception of how good things were in the old days. But all that is being threatened now. And that is what is beginning to bring about a fundamental change in consciousness.
The molecular process of revolution
The question of inflation is a key element in changing the attitude of the older generation. While it is true that the youth are the most radicalised layer, and more open to revolutionary ideas, there is an increasingly angry mood developing among all kinds of people. People who until quite recently thought things were fine as they are and life was stable and predictable, are now getting a real shock.
Everything is turning into its opposite. There is a sudden, very sharp worsening of the conditions of life, and it is changing people’s outlook. Suddenly, everybody is complaining. They just can’t make their money stretch to the end of the month.
Previously, in the West, the bosses and union leaders struck deals of yearly wage increases of one or two percent, barely keeping up with inflation, and forced them onto the workers. Today, such deals would amount to significant falls in real wages. For more and more workers, it is becoming clear that, just to maintain their standard of living, they will need to organise and fight. Everywhere there is a marked rise in industrial action, often ending in victory for the workers.
In Britain, hundreds of thousands across many sectors have been on strike; in Greece, Belgium and France we have seen general strikes; in the US, new layers such as Starbucks, Apple and Amazon workers are fighting to unionise and are beginning to take industrial action, and we also had the railway workers’ dispute. Finally, we also saw in Canada how Doug Ford’s attacks against Ontario education workers led to an illegal strike and the union leaders threatening a general strike which managed to defeat ‘back-to-work’ legislation – a first in Canadian history. Everywhere, the working class is beginning to wake up under the impact of the cost-of-living crisis.
Inflation is also having a huge impact on small businesses, many of whom find themselves staring bankruptcy in the face, and on old people who see the value of their pensions eroded day by day. Already there have been mass demonstrations of pensioners in Spain. And a large part of the social volatility we see in countries like Italy is a closely related phenomenon.
There is a general feeling of insecurity and fear for the future that enormously exacerbates political and social instability. This presents the capitalist class with great dangers, which explains why they are compelled to take very risky measures in an attempt to prevent revolutionary developments.
When people who previously showed no interest in politics suddenly begin to talk about politics at the bus stop or in the supermarket, that is the beginning of what Trotsky called the “molecular process of revolution”.
It is true that they lack the worked-out, scientific analysis that Marxists possess. Their grasp of politics is something elementary, crude and undeveloped. But it is guided by an elementary sense of injustice, a feeling that something is not working in society and that something will have to change.
It is an elementary class consciousness that is the first embryo of a revolutionary consciousness. The most important element in this change is economic. But it is not the only factor.
The environmental disaster
The capitalist system is leading the world towards an environmental disaster, which is now looming large in the minds of many people. For some, indeed, it is an existential problem. For entire nations, their very future is at risk.
At one extreme, there is the problem of drought and the drying up of rivers, which is having a devastating effect on crops and on the production of food, and is therefore driving up inflation.
At the other, there are devastating storms, hurricanes and terrible floods, as we have seen in countries like Bangladesh, and Pakistan where 33 million people were directly affected.
In countries like Somalia, over three million animals have died, which has destroyed the livelihood of millions of people. In Brazil, the criminal destruction of Amazonia has reached record levels. Some 3,988 square kilometres of land (1,540 square miles) were cleared in the region between January and June 2022. 3,088 square kilometres of the rainforest were destroyed during the same period.
In advanced capitalist countries also, there is clear evidence of more extreme weather conditions. Many people live in constant fear that their house will be flooded or swept away.
In big cities, the air is being poisoned by toxic fumes, the rivers are choked with chemical waste from factories, farms, human effluence, and the oceans polluted with endless tonnes of plastic and other rubbish.
Deep sea mining, once a thing confined to science fiction, is now becoming a reality, with predictable catastrophic consequences for the ecological balance of the planet and biodiversity. And in all countries, the rate of extinction of plant and animal species has reached alarming levels.
All these things stir the conscience of millions, especially young people. But moral indignation and angry demonstrations are totally insufficient because without a correct diagnosis, it is impossible to offer any solution.
The environmental catastrophe is a clear result of the madness of the market economy. It must be emphasised that the existence of capitalism now represents a clear and present threat to the future of human civilisation.
If the environmental movement confines itself to the politics of empty gestures, it will condemn itself to impotence. The only way it can succeed in its objectives is to take up a clear and unambiguously anti-capitalist, revolutionary position. We must endeavour to reach the best elements and convince them of that fact.
The role of the Marxists
Mainly as a result of the weakness of the subjective factor, the present crisis will not have a quick resolution. This delay is advantageous to the Marxists, because it will give us the time we need to strengthen our forces and build a solid base in the working class and the labour movement.
The crisis will be prolonged in time, and there will be many ebbs and flows of the class struggle. Moments of euphoria will be followed by other moments of weariness, apathy and even despair. But in every case, the class will always rise up, ready to renew the fight, not for any magical reasons, but simply because it has no other alternative but to fight.
The working class as a whole does not learn from books, but from experience. But it does learn – from defeats and setbacks as well as victories. It is learning right now about the limitations of left reformism. Engels once said that defeated armies learn their lessons well. On which Lenin commented: “These splendid words apply in far greater measure to revolutionary armies.”
But this is a very long learning curve and many future experiences will be necessary before the class finally discards its illusions in reformism (especially in its ‘left’ disguise) and comes to understand the need for a total social revolution.
Our role is not to lecture the working class from the sidelines but to actively participate in the class struggle. It is the task of the Marxists to go through this process together with the working class, to fight shoulder to shoulder with the workers, and thus to win their respect and confidence.
However, if this were the sole content of our activity, we would be mere activists and would have no reason to exist as a separate tendency in the labour movement.
Our most important role is to help the workers and youth, beginning with the most advanced layer, to draw the necessary conclusions from their experience and to show in practice the superiority of Marxist ideas.
This will take some time, and we must learn the virtues of revolutionary patience. There is no easy road. The search for short cuts invariably ends in serious deviations, either of an opportunist or ultra-left kind.
Let us remember that in 1917, in the middle of a revolution, Lenin advanced the slogan: “Patiently Explain!” We have the correct ideas, which alone can point the way to victory in the class struggle.
The actual rhythm of events cannot be predicted. But the potential for an explosive intensification of the class struggle exists in many countries. We cannot say where it will begin. It may be France or Italy, or Iran, or Brazil; Indonesia, Pakistan, Argentina or even China.
We shall see. But the main thing is that it will open new possibilities for the Marxist tendency, provided we are able to take advantage of them. And that depends upon one thing only: our ability to grow our forces to the critical point where we are physically able to intervene.
That, in turn, depends on the work that we do now. Our slogan must be: full strength at the point of attack. And that means precisely, to build our forces.
We must work tirelessly to build the forces that will be required to carry these ideas into every factory, every union branch, every school and university. Only in this way can the future revolutionary leadership of the proletariat be built.
For a very long time, we have been fighting against the stream. Our cadres have been hardened and strengthened in that fight. We have earned the respect of the most advanced workers and youth. The political and moral authority of our International has never been higher.
These are colossal gains! But we still have a long way to travel. It is a long and hard road, and it will not all be easy. Moments of euphoria will be followed by other moments of disappointment and even despair. We must learn to live with difficulties and accept defeats as well as successes with the same cheerful equanimity.
But the tide of history has turned and we are now beginning to swim with the current, not against it. The workers and youth are far more open to our ideas than at any other time. The whole process will be speeded up.
Our International will be faced with immense opportunities far sooner than one might expect. Many doors will be opened. It is up to us to ensure that we take full advantage of every possibility and prove that we are equal to the great tasks imposed upon us by history.
1 February 2023