"The most turbulent time in recent history" - Part Two

“What we are discussing here is the world revolution. Globalisation manifests itself now as a global crisis of capitalism. That is the inner meaning of these shocks and crises and wars, which are already beginning to shape the psychology of the new generation of fighters.” Second part of Alan Woods’ speech at the August 2004 international gathering of the international revolutionary Marxist tendency.

Speech given by Alan Woods at the August 2004 international gathering of the international revolutionary Marxist tendency

Part Two

US military supremacy

You can expect great things in America. American imperialism possesses colossal economic power, and colossal military power. It is unprecedented in world history that one country should dominate the entire world so absolutely. American imperialism now occupies the place in the world that British imperialism occupied in the past, 100 years ago. And the British imperialists had a policy, that the British navy, which was the key question at that time, must be stronger than the combined navies of the next two greatest powers. But that is nothing compared to the position that the United States possesses today.

The American imperialists have a crushing military superiority. At present the military budget of the United States of America is around 300 billion dollars a year. This is more than the total combined military expenditure of the following powers: Russia, China, Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Italy, India, and South Korea. This is a staggering and unprecedented power.

Many people draw pessimistic conclusions from this. “You cannot move, you cannot defeat the Americans” and so on. Such a conclusion is entirely false. And you see how false it is now in Iraq. With all their terrifying power, they are not able to maintain the people of Iraq in chains. But of course with colossal power comes colossal arrogance – particularly on the part of pea-brained Bush from the Bible Belt. Insofar as they have a policy it is to bully, and threaten, and master and dominate every country in the world. This doesn’t make them very popular.

Now I live in a part of London called Bermondsey with a football team called Millwall. Its supporters have a rather unenviable reputation, summed up by the following story. A Millwall is supposed to have said: “You know I went to a fight last Saturday and a football match broke out!” [laughter] The slogan of Millwall football supporters club is “Nobody likes us and we don’t care”. Well, that is the slogan of American imperialism, isn’t it?

They are a bit like football hooligans but on a rather larger scale. They bully people into submission – in Yugoslavia, or in Iraq, or Cuba, or Venezuela. What they say is: “Do what we say, or we will bomb you. Do what we say or we will invade you.” This is the biggest counterrevolutionary force on the planet. Yes, that is true, but the power of American imperialism is not unlimited. That is shown by Iraq.

The limits of US imperialism

The war in Iraq is draining the resources of America at the present time. Just for Iraq, it is costing them more than four billion dollars every month – one billion dollars every week – and another billion for Afghanistan, which again they have not succeeded in dominating after all this time. Now they claim to have just handed over sovereignty in Iraq. So the Iraqi people have got “sovereignty”. They must be very pleased! The real reason is that the Americans are finding it very difficult to control things themselves.

Normally, when an imperial power hands over sovereignty, they have a ceremony; they lower the old flag, they raise the new flag, a band plays nice music, and everybody is happy. On this occasion it wasn’t like that, however. Bremer met in a secret location, and at a moment when nobody expected it – in case they were all blown up. And he said: “Here, take your sovereignty!” and he throw it like a hot potato and he ran – he literally ran. This is quite logical. The man was very relieved to be alive. So he tossed the hot potato and then he dashed home to America. He was in such a hurry to get out that he got on the first flight on a cargo plane!

Of course this sovereignty is a farce. There are 140,000 American troops still in Iraq. And as Lenin explained power in the last analysis is groups of armed men. Further to these there are 200 so-called advisors, American advisors. There will be two or three American advisors for every Iraqi so-called minister. In the Economist they had an amusing little cartoon about this. Bremer says to Allawi “Congratulations, you now have sovereignty” – and Allawi says “many tanks” [laughter] – not “many thanks”, because he is surrounded by American tanks [laughter].

There is no sovereignty in Iraq. The resistance is continuing implacably, with an average of 45 attacks a day. On the one hand, there is a colossal economic drain, which even the wealthiest country on earth cannot sustain. How can they pay four billion dollars every month? On the other hand, American soldiers are getting killed every day. Almost a thousand have been killed. They bring back the corpses at night so that nobody can see how many have been killed. This is bound to have a cumulative effect, and at a certain stage it will lead to an explosion, as in Spain. It is inevitable.

In the 1930s, before the Second World War had started, Trotsky made a brilliant prediction. He said that as a result of the Second World War American imperialism would emerge as the dominant force on the planet, and that has been shown to be correct, but then he added that it would have dynamite built into its foundations. And now you can see what that means.

Middle East in Flames

These actions were supposed to lead to greater stability, specifically in the Middle East, which is a key economic and strategic area for United States imperialism. Particularly Saudi Arabia is a key country. But now the whole of the Middle East is in flames. One only has to pose the question: has the occupation of Iraq led to greater stability in the Middle East? It’s been a complete unqualified disaster. It has amplified the tensions, and the antagonisms and the conflicts everywhere. It has utterly destabilised Saudi Arabia, where the regime is now hanging by a very fragile thread, and could collapse at any time, which would be an unmitigated disaster for America.

There is now colossal instability throughout the Middle East. As a matter of fact, there is not one single stable bourgeois regime throughout the whole area – including Israel. They talked about the road map. It is in the interests of imperialism to get some kind of arrangement with the Palestinians. Failure to resolve the Palestinian problem, which is like a festering sore, can enormously increase the instability, which is already bad enough in the Middle East.

Therefore it is in the interests of American imperialism to force the Israelis to come to some kind of agreement. They tried it with the Oslo agreement. That broke down, and now they have the Road Map. You see, there is one so-called agreement after another. But look what happens. They try one deal and they will try and they will try, and they will fail, they will fail, and they will fail.

On a capitalist basis, as we explained long ago, this problem cannot be solved. The only possible solution is a Socialist Federation of the Middle East, with autonomy for the Jews and Palestinians in the framework of a common federation. This Road Map has immediately come off the road.

Impotence of the UN

George Bush, who stands at the head of a group of rabid religious reactionaries and Christian fundamentalists, has excellent relations with extreme Jewish fundamentalists and extreme Zionists. Instead of putting pressure on Sharon, they are encouraging him. The Europeans are saying to Sharon: “For God’s sake, behave yourself. Reach some kind of a deal. Give Arafat something”.

What does George Bush say? He makes an official public declaration, which is unprecedented. There was really no reason why the President should make such a statement as this! He announces that the United States does not consider it to be necessary for Israel to pull back behind the frontiers of 1967! This in effect gives a green light to Sharon. Washington tells him: “Carry on, do what you like, we don’t mind.”

So Sharon also says, “many tanks” (he has got many tanks), and he builds a wall, which slices through chunks of territory which should belong to the West Bank. He seized even more land from the Palestinians. Of course, the Palestinians are furious. They can never accept this. But what can they do about it? Arafat’s anger is impotent fury. What can they do about it? Appeal to the Americans? Appeal to the Europeans? Appeal to the United Nations?

Of course he appeals to the UN! And all the sharks, crocodiles and snakes get together in the United Nations, and for the hundredth or the thousandth time, they say “Oh yes this is very bad, very bad indeed. You cannot build this wall”, and they sent him a letter, which I am sure that Sharon will find use for in the smallest room in his house [laughter], just as he has done with all the other United Nations resolutions.

You cannot solve the problem on that basis. It can only be solved by revolutionary means. It is not true that the Jewish people are one homogenous reactionary mass, as the sectarians all think. Although they don’t say so, that is what they all think. If that were true, by the way, then the situation would be really impossible. But it’s not true fortunately. There are enormous contradictions within Israel, there are class contradictions and there is opposition in Israel, among the Israeli youth in particular, which our small group of supporters in Israel can build upon, and will build upon.

At the same time there are contradictions opening up among the Palestinians – opposition to Arafat who is very corrupt. Revolutionary movements among the youth and protest movements, which we must enter into contact with, to build a common revolutionary front of Jewish and Arab workers and youth against imperialism and Zionism.

Venezuela and the Latin American Revolution

Now, I won’t deal with Latin America, because these are going to be discussed in a separate session. But everything that I said in relation to the Middle East applies to Latin America. It is a great privilege and an honour that we have comrade Celia from Cuba present at this meeting. We have not stressed the Cuban revolution sufficiently, and yet after the Russian revolution and the Chinese revolution, this is one of the greatest events in human history, which had a tremendous effect throughout the world, but particularly in Latin America.

George Bush and the other American imperialists are determined to destroy Cuba and they are determined to destroy the Venezuelan revolution. Why is this? Why are they so determined to get rid of Chavez? Is it because of the oil? It is partly because of the oil. Venezuela is a major oil producer. But that is not the main reason. The main reason why they are determined to destroy the Venezuelan revolution is exactly the same reason why they are determined to destroy the Cuban revolution – because they are seen as examples to the oppressed masses of South America and Central America. The whole of South America is in flames. We said it before: there is not a single stable bourgeois regime in the whole of South America from the Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Grande.

South America is a vital area for American imperialism – it is their “backyard”. 200 years ago they developed the so-called Monroe Doctrine. In its original concept this was a device to keep the European capitalists out of America. But now they have developed it further. In effect their interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine now is to demand complete and absolute domination in the whole of South America.

The Cuban revolution has very courageously stood up to the Americans. Fidel Castro has stood up to the Americans and he is fighting to defend the nationalised planned economy – which is a progressive thing. It is the elementary duty of the international Marxist tendency to defend the Cuban revolution against imperialism and to defend the gains of the revolution – the nationalised planned economy.

The gains of the Cuban revolution are now in danger. They are not only in danger from foreign intervention. (I do not think that the American imperialists will dare to intervene militarily in Cuba. They tried it once and they burnt their fingers very badly. They have other means of destroying the revolution.) The main threat to the Cuban revolution now comes from within – from the section of the bureaucracy, a corrupt wing that wants to move towards capitalism.

There is a danger that they will succeed, particularly when Fidel Castro departs from the scene. Therefore the only way to preserve the gains of, and develop, the Cuban revolution as Comrade Celia pointed out in her excellent article on the permanent revolution, is to extend the revolution to Latin America, and also to North America. It is the same thing.

There can be a wave of socialist revolutions in South America. Ché Guevara had that idea. He wasn’t a Trotskyist, but he was a very courageous revolutionary and he gave his life for the revolution. He wanted to spread the revolution to South America. He failed and he was killed. But now the conditions are ripe, not only in Venezuela.

Venezuela is the key. It is a marvellous revolution, which of course none of the sects have seen. They say: “Revolution? What revolution? Where is the revolution?” They don’t understand that the essence of a revolution as Trotsky explained is the enormous movement of the masses, which are moving to take their own destiny into their own hands.

The Permanent Revolution

All of the elements are present in Venezuela to move in the direction of a proletarian revolution, except for one, which is the revolutionary Marxist party. President Chavez is a very honest and a very courageous man. He is the best kind of revolutionary democrat, as Lenin would have put it. But as he told me himself, “well I am not a Marxist. I haven’t read enough Marxist books”. And unfortunately there is a wing of the Bolivarian leadership that wants to stop the revolution, to keep it within capitalist limits. And that is not possible. That would destroy the revolution.

Venezuela is a classic example of Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution, which says what? It says that under modern conditions, the objective tasks of the bourgeois revolution cannot be realized by the bourgeoisie, but only through the socialist revolution, through the proletariat taking power into its hands. That is perfectly clear in Venezuela, but not only there.

In Bolivia we had the elements of a proletarian revolution a few months ago. In Peru, where there is a revolutionary situation rapidly developing, Toledo is obviously going to be overthrown, and we must help the weak forces of Trotskyism, our comrades in Peru, to develop. There will be enormous possibilities everywhere.

When you talk about the Bolivarian revolution, what does it mean? What was the essence of the ideas of Simon Bolivar? He wasn’t for a revolution in Venezuela, or in Ecuador, or Peru – he stood for a revolution throughout South America. And we entirely agree with that vision, which is also our vision. Our programme is the programme of Simon Bolivar, with one small difference.

Simon Bolivar was a bourgeois democratic politician – who took his ideas from the great French revolution as a matter of fact. But the bourgeoisie in South America and Central America have had 200 years to show what they can do. What have they achieved? They have reduced South America to a situation of balkanisation. They split it up into artificial nations – so-called nation states – which allows it to be dominated by imperialism. And we have the tragic spectacle, of a continent with untold riches and unimaginable wealth, but dominated by imperialism.

We believe that Bolivar’s vision for a united Latin America remains completely correct. But, as I said, we would add one small correction. Under modern conditions this can only be done by the proletariat taking power into its own hands – through a socialist revolution – to destroy the power of the monstrous oligarchies, which dominate these countries.

Political earthquake in India

Comrades I don’t have much more time left, and I have a wealth of material to deal with. But everywhere you look in the world you see similar developments taking place. And there is one such event that we must deal with.

Yesterday I was talking to comrade Manzoor, who has just returned from India. If there was a political explosion in Spain a few months ago, there has been an even bigger explosion in India. A counterrevolutionary situation has been turned into at least the beginnings of a revolutionary situation. The BJP is a monstrous, chauvinist, Hindu reactionary party. It is responsible for the massacre of thousands of innocent men, women, and children in monstrous chauvinist orgies, pogroms. And it has just suffered a shattering defeat at the polls.

The Indian economy was growing at quite a fast rate – about 8%. They followed all the recipes of the IMF and the World Bank and they got these results. Therefore the BJP was quite confident. All the opinion polls said that they were going to win. And there was an earthquake.

They put forward a slogan – Indian is shining – “shining India”. Yes India was shining for a few people – for the rich and a small section of the middle class. That’s why we must not base ourselves on superficial economic results, and so many percentages of growth, because these do not exhaust the question. Inside India there is enormous and growing inequality – an abyss between rich and poor.

70% of the population live in villages. Well, India is not shining very much for them. It wasn’t shining at all, since many don’t have electric lights. 300 million people live on less than $1 a day. 160 million lack access to clean water. 47% of children under five years of age are underweight because of malnourishment. But “India is shining”!

I wrote an article a few months ago, before the elections, about the magnificent general strike in India [Indian working class flexes its muscles ], which nobody seemed to have taken much notice of, except for us. That already was a symptom of what was going to happen. After the magnificent general strike you have this marvellous electoral result. By the way, this was no thanks to the leaders of the Congress party, who, like the Spanish Socialist Party leaders, were the most astonished people in India when the results were announced.

I forgot to bring a copy of the Economist, which showed on the front page a photo of the new prime minister (by the way he is a reactionary scoundrel, a liberal in the western sense of the word). He’s got a telephone to his ear, and he is saying “Who me?” [laughter]. They just didn’t expect to win. And yet again the workers took them by the scruff of the neck and pushed them into power.

However the most important aspect of this is the colossal growth in the votes of the Communist Party, or rather of the two Communist parties, the CPI and the CPI (M), and also the Socialist Party – which we have not considered before – which also got a significant result. Undoubtedly the proletariat in India is one of the strongest in the world, with tremendous militant, revolutionary and communist traditions. We are in the process of developing the work in India, but I will leave it for the comrades to speak on that themselves.

Perspectives for the Iranian Revolution

When I was dealing with the Middle East I omitted one very key country. This is one of the keys to the world revolution. As a matter of fact, it’s not really in the Middle East. It’s only partly in the Middle East. I am referring to Iran. If you look at Iran superficially, you might think, “there is no hope”. The mullahs have been in power for a long time. They’ve got a powerful grip on the state. They have defeated the reformists. And it would seem that black reaction is firmly in the saddle.

That would be entirely false. The fact of the matter is that revolution has already started in Iran. In what sense can we say this? If you look at history, revolution doesn’t begin at the bottom, it always begins at the top. It begins as splits in the ruling class, because they are unable to continue to rule in the old way, with the old methods.

One wing, the reformist wing, says, “we must reform or there will be a revolution”. Their idea is to reform from the top to prevent revolution from below. And the other wing, the so-called hard liners, says, “no, there must be no change and no reform, because if we reform there will be a revolution from below”. And both are right. I wouldn’t like to be an Ayatollah in Iran at the present time. If I was offered the job I would refuse, because they are in serious trouble.

The great French historian Alexis de Tocqueville, wrote a very interesting book about the French Revolution. He said the most dangerous moment for any autocracy is when they start to reform. And that is a fact. And the position in Iran is that after 20 years the Iranian masses are tired of the Ayatollahs, and they are tired of the regime, particularly the youth: they must hate this regime.

The first indication of a revolution, as I said, is a split at the top. The ruling class must be split. The second indication of a revolution is a ferment in the middle class. It must be vacillating between revolution and counterrevolution. And there is an enormous ferment in the Iranian middle class, among the intellectual and among the students, and also among the shopkeepers – the Bazaaris, which used to be a solid base for Khomeini, a solid base for reaction. But not any more.

But the reformists have been defeated! Of course they are defeated. They were bound to be defeated. But the defeat of the reformists is preparing the way for an enormous explosion. Only one ingredient is missing, which is the role of the working class. And there is a powerful working class in Iran, with great revolutionary traditions.

Comrade Razi pointed out a very interesting piece of information. On May 1 there were mass demonstrations of workers in six Iranian cities, and that in one of these areas, which is an extremely reactionary area, the authorities arrested the workers’ leaders. In the past they would have been immediately killed and nobody would have heard anything about it. But this time they were not killed, they were released. And then these workers’ leaders showed defiance. In other words they are losing the fear – the fear is gone, or at least it is not what it was. Therefore it is not a question if there will be an uprising in Iran, but only when there will be an uprising.

Europe in Crisis

Now I have not dealt very much in this leadoff with Europe, and that reflects two things. It reflects the development of revolution on a world scale, and also the development of the international Marxist tendency. But that is not to say that the situation in Europe is stagnant. It is far from that!

In Europe there has been no economic recovery. There are very high rates of unemployment in this so-called recovery. Germany, which used to be the powerhouse of Europe, has got an unemployment rate of 10% officially. In Eastern Germany, it’s nearer to 20%, and in some towns in East Germany it’s 30%. Unemployment in France is officially about the same; it’s about 10%. In Spain it is officially about 11.2%. All of this is in a boom.

In the past some comrades asked the question about European unity and Maastricht. Couldn’t they solve their problems by these means? And the answer is no. It’s true that they have gone further than what we anticipated. They introduced the Euro, which we didn’t think was likely. But we pointed out from the beginning that the Maastricht Treaty was an attempt to do the impossible: it is impossible to unite the economies which are moving in different directions.

Some of the European bourgeois have got the illusion that they are going to unite Europe. That’s particularly the idea of the French and the German bourgeoisie, because they want to dominate Europe, and because they want to build an alternative to the United States. The French in particular are attached to that idea.

There is an enormous struggle opening up between American imperialism and Europe. It is not just over trade; it is about world power politics. And the tension is very acute. They recently had a meeting of NATO. George Bush again showed that he is an extremely brilliant diplomat. He said to the European bourgeois “you must include Turkey”. Not “please would you mind considering Turkey’s membership”. No, no, no, no, – “You must include Turkey.” And President Chirac told him – in impeccable French: “I fear that the American President, has lost a marvellous opportunity to remain silent” [laughter]. Which in diplomatic language translated into ordinary language means – p*** off [laughter]. Chirac also refused point blank to allow NATO troops to be sent to Iraq. He said, “our American friends must understand that Europe is not just a trading block but a political power”.

They want to build an alternative to the USA – that’s why they are expanding to the East. But what prospects have they got of success? If one takes numbers, then the EU is already bigger than the American market. But Lenin said a long time ago that a capitalist united Europe is a reactionary utopia. When he said that it was a utopia, he meant that it couldn’t be achieved on a capitalist basis. And if it could be achieved it would be a reactionary thing. It would be a reactionary imperialist block, every bit as reactionary as the United States. But it’s not possible.

It is not possible because Europe is not like America. The United States, although it is a federation, is a single nation, with a single economy. The European Union is made up of different nation states, each with their own antagonistic interests. They are all fighting each other. For example, according to the Maastricht Treaty you are not supposed to go beyond the figure of 3% deficit. Poor little Portugal went above the deficit and had to pay a big fine. But now Germany has broken the deficit, France has broken the deficit, and they should pay a huge fine, but they haven’t paid a cent, they’ve paid nothing.

The European commissioner said, “this is very bad, you’ve broken the rules, you must pay”. And the French and Germans basically said to the European commissioner, “Get lost!” [laughter]. You think they are going to pay? They are not going to pay. Of course they will not pay. Instead they will have to rewrite the rules. And therefore the whole Maastricht scheme begins to unravel, just as we predicted.

A finished recipe for the class struggle

None of the problems have been resolved. As a matter of fact, all of the governments of Europe are in engaged in an attempt to cut the budget, cut the deficit, cut education and health and hospitals and roads and houses. And that is true of every government in the world. No matter if it is left, right, or centre they are pursuing the same policies. And on a capitalist basis that must be the case. In other words, the capitalist class is seeking to destroy those elements of a civilised existence, or a semi-civilised existence which the workers have conquered over generations. And this is preparing an outburst of the class struggle in Europe which has not been seen since the 1930s.

The only question that we have to ask is why has this been delayed? The crisis is very profound. But it is a problem of consciousness. Marxism explains that human consciousness in general is not a revolutionary thing; it is not even progressive. Human consciousness is enormously conservative. People generally don’t like change. They don’t like new ideas. They tend to cling to the existing, to the known, to the familiar. And they tend to look backwards.

The consciousness of the European workers, and the American and the Canadian workers, has been shaped by decades of economic prosperity, upswing and boom and reforms. This has led to a certain softening of the class struggle: a softening of the relations between the classes. And although many reforms have now been destroyed, most people refuse to accept this. They think that the crisis will be temporary, that this will pass and things will be okay, and we will get back to the “good old days”.

This conservative consciousness reaches its highpoint – or rather its low point – in the leadership of the working class. The last 50 or 60 years have set the seal on the degeneration, the bureaucratic and reformist degeneration, of the leaders of all the workers’ parties and the trade unions. That is what is holding the process back. It is the colossal gap between the demands of the objective situation and the consciousness of the working class under its leadership.

The labour movement in Europe, even the labour movement, in Austria, in Sweden, in Denmark, in Britain, has been affected by alien ideas – petty bourgeois ideas of reformism, of pacifism, of feminism, and all the rest of it. And it will take colossal blows, hammer blows, to drive this nonsense out of the heads of the working class. Reformist illusions will be burned out of the consciousness of the workers with a hot iron. But it will take some time.

There will be one crisis after another – one blow after another. Events, events, events, are needed to shake up the consciousness of the masses and force them to come to terms with reality. This is particularly true of the mass organisations – the mass parties and the trade unions. They are going to be shaken from top to bottom. There will be the emergence of mass oppositional left wing trends in the trade unions and in the parties, and the small forces of the revolutionary tendency must find ways and means of linking up with the mass movement and to fertilise it with the ideas and methods and programme of Marxism.

Comrades, this gathering is destined to be an historical turning point of the Marxist tendency on a world scale. We have passed through quite a difficult period but we have come through this period with our forces intact, with our ideas and programme unscathed. For a long time we have been struggling against the stream. The current has been very powerful, and not everyone has been able to resist this. But today we can be proud of the fact that we have remained true to the revolutionary banner of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, and that these ideas are beginning to find an echo in one country after another.

Comrades what are we discussing here this morning? What is the theme of the discussion today? It is not the revolution in this or that country. It is not the Venezuelan revolution. It is not the Iranian revolution. It is not the Spanish revolution. What we are discussing here is the world revolution. Globalisation manifests itself now as a global crisis of capitalism. That is the inner meaning of these shocks and crises and wars, which are already beginning to shape the psychology of the new generation of fighters.

They are looking for the ideas of this tendency. They are trying to find away to Marxism. And we must exert all our strength, all our willpower, every muscle, every hour of our lives, to making these ideas available to the masses. We will start with the advanced layer – the activists in the trade unions, the Labour Party, the Communist Party, the shop stewards’ committees, and the youth.

For every cadre that we can win and train today, we will win a hundred and a thousand once the situation begins to change, preparing the way for the construction first of all of a mass revolutionary tendency and at a later stage mass revolutionary Marxist parties capable of leading the working class to the victory of the socialist revolution in Europe, in Asia, in the Americas – North and South – in Africa, in the Middle East, and on a world scale preparing the way for the triumph of socialism on the entire planet. [Applause]