“A phantom is haunting Europe.” With this celebrated phrase, the authors of the Communist Manifesto proclaimed the dawn of a new stage in human history. That was in 1848, a year of revolutionary upheavals in Europe. But now a phantom is haunting, not just Europe, but the whole world. It is the phantom of world revolution.
World revolution is not just an empty phrase. It accurately describes the new stage into which we are entering. If we just take the events of the past 12 months. Revolutionary upheavals, mass protest movements and powerful general strikes have broken out in France, Iran, Sudan, Algeria, Tunisia, Hong Kong, Chile, Ecuador, Iraq, Lebanon and Catalonia.
In France, the movement of the gilets jaunes took them all by surprise. Before this mass uprising, everything seemed to be going to plan for the “political Centre” in the person of Emmanuel Macron. His reforms (in reality counter-reforms) were going through smoothly. The trade union leaders were behaving responsibly (i.e., capitulating). This was rudely interrupted when the masses took to the streets of France in the best revolutionary traditions of their country, and shook the government to the core. This movement of millions of people seemed to come from nowhere, like a thunderbolt from a clear blue sky.
Exactly the same was true in Hong Kong. Anyone with any doubt about the revolutionary potential that exists today should study those events carefully. Before this, the men in Beijing and their local agents seemed to be in complete control. Yet here was a mighty mass movement of millions, challenging a formidable dictatorship on the streets. And like the movement in France, it seemed to come out of nowhere.
The same was the case with every one of the mass movements that erupted in one country after another. If it were a question of one or two countries, it might be objected that these were accidental phenomena – transient episodes, from which no general conclusions could be drawn. But when we see exactly the same process occurring in one country after another, we no longer have any right to dismiss it as an accident. Rather, these developments are a manifestation of the same general process, reflecting the same underlying laws and tendencies.
Revolutionary developments in Latin America
When Mauricio Macri won the presidential election in Argentina in 2015, this was heralded as yet more proof of the “conservative wave” sweeping Latin America. But the recent election puts an end to the economic dreams of Macri and his pro-business gang.
The man who promised “zero poverty” ended his term in office with a plunging peso, with an annual inflation rate of 56 percent. The number of people living beneath the poverty line had risen from 29 percent to 35 percent. An emergency loan by the IMF was not enough to restore equilibrium.
Had there been a clear leadership of the workers’ movement, Macri’s government could have been overthrown by a revolutionary movement from below. This was shown by the recent events in neighbouring Chile.
This movement began when secondary school students launched a protest against Metro fare increases in Santiago. But once it started, it was quickly transformed into a national movement aimed at the overthrow of the entire regime. It was the culmination of 30 years of cuts, privatisation, attacks on the working class, deregulation and increasing inequality.
On Friday 25 October, more than a million people demonstrated in the capital. This mobilisation was repeated in cities and communes throughout the country. A total of more than two million people took to the streets. This explosion of popular anger erupted just one week after the hated Piñera government declared a state of emergency, the militarisation of the streets and the curfew. But neither brutal repression, nor torture, nor the curfew, nor fake concessions halted a movement that is acquiring insurrectionary characteristics.
This is not an isolated case. Not long before this we saw a similar revolutionary explosion in Ecuador, where the movement, which began as a protest against the IMF package imposed by President Lenín Moreno, became a national insurrection that forced the government to flee the capital Quito and close the national assembly.
As in Chile, this movement has reached insurrectionary proportions that pose the question of power point blank. The central question here is not this or that reform, but who rules? The government declared a state of emergency and ordered the police and the army to crush the rebellion, leaving one dead, dozens injured, and resulting in hundreds of arrests. But in the face of an uprising of the masses, all the normal instruments of state repression have proved to be impotent.
The capital Quito was abandoned by the government. On Wednesday 9 October, a powerful general strike paralysed the country and a huge march of between 50,000 and 100,000 protesters was heading again to Carondelet presidential palace, hurriedly vacated by Moreno the day before. For a few moments, the movement took control of the also-vacated National Assembly, with the intention of installing a People's Assembly.
Here is very striking proof of the colossal revolutionary potential that exists, not only in Chile and Ecuador, but on a world scale.
On the other side of the world, in the Middle East, it appeared that reaction had decisively triumphed everywhere. The Arab Revolution appeared to be dead and buried. Yet, the forces of that great revolution are once again on the march.
In Lebanon, a country of no more than six million inhabitants, more than two million have taken to the streets. In war-shattered Iraq also, tens of thousands have been fighting against the military and paramilitaries on the streets. In Lebanon and Iraq, powerful mass protests have led to the fall of the prime ministers after only a few weeks of struggle.
For years, reactionary regimes have leaned on the sectarian divisions in society to cut across the class struggle, but these tactics are not working any more. The movements are bringing the class contradictions to the fore. The demands on the streets are for jobs, education, healthcare and an end to the scandalous thieving and corruption at the top. In Jordan, in 2018, a general strike and widespread mass protests lead to the downfall of Prime Minister Hani Mulki.
Lenin said that politics is concentrated economics. That statement is clearly corroborated by the events we are discussing here. Of course, the economic issues are not the only element in the equation. But there can be no doubt whatsoever that the combination of an acute economic crisis and decades of corrupt misrule by a class of wealthy bloodsuckers and their political stooges is what pushes society to the edge.
Lebanon is a good example. It has one of the highest debt-to-GDP ratios in the world. Unemployment stands at close to 25 percent, and tens of thousands of educated young people are driven to leave the country each year due to a lack of opportunities. All these things are a recipe for a social explosion.
The major political parties that divided the country along sectarian lines during the Civil War are still in power today, mismanaging public funds and accumulating budget deficits year after year. It seemed that this would never change, but now a powerful revolutionary movement has erupted in Lebanon, spanning the entire country and dramatically changing the political situation.
Mass demonstrations have swept the country since 17 October over a litany of long-standing grievances, including rampant corruption, lack of public services and a worsening economic crisis. Banks have been closed over fears of financial collapse, while demonstrators have come out in their hundreds of thousands, blocking roads and filling squares.
The protests were spontaneous and completely unorganised; no organisation claimed the protests as their own because it really is a people’s revolution. People from different religious sects, social classes and political backgrounds took to the streets to express their anger at the current mishandling of the economy and demanded the fall of the kleptocratic regime.
Although protestors come from different political backgrounds, the common thing that unites them is their anger at the assault on their living standards. This rage ultimately stems, in my opinion, from a growing economic divide between Lebanon’s wealthiest 10 percent (which happens to be made up of the ruling politicians and corporate elites) and working-class people.
The growing discontent reached a tipping point in an enormous mass movement of two million people that extended over every province, cutting across all sectarian divisions. People from all religions have joined the movement. Without any organisation or leadership, the revolutionary masses have been braving violent oppression to fight against their thieving rulers.
As in Ecuador and Chile, the government tried to push back against the protests - with the armed forces using teargas - and several images and videos of police violence against protestors appeared on social networking sites. Supporters of the Lebanese Hezbollah movement and its political ally, Amal, attacked protesters in downtown Beirut.
For many years, the Iranian-backed Shia movements could hide behind their conflict with the US, and Saudi and Israeli imperialism. But now they are a part of the ruling elite themselves. Faced with the rising revolutionary movement they all close ranks to defend their class interests.
The attacks against the protesters finally served to unmask their real reactionary nature. Therefore, the anger of the masses in Lebanon is also directed against Hezbollah, the Shiite “Party of God” that posed as a defender of the poor and oppressed. When its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, threw his support behind the Lebanese government, the slogans on the streets was "all of them means all of them, Nasrallah is one of them!"
At last, the prime minister, Saad Hariri was forced to resign, saying he had reached a “dead end” following 13 days of upheaval. The Independent commented:
“The protests have plunged Lebanon’s political class into chaos. For the first time, the sectarian political order that has governed this eastern Mediterranean nation since the end of the civil war in 1990 is facing a mass movement aimed at its overthrow.”
It went on:
“What began as a spontaneous burst of anger over a new set of taxes quickly turned into something bigger. Rather than targeting the government or any one political leader, protesters called out Lebanon’s corrupt political class in its entirety.”
Sound familiar? Of course! This is exactly the same process that we have seen in Ecuador and Chile. Beginning as a mass protest for immediate, concrete, economic demands, the movement rapidly turned into “something bigger.” That is to say that the masses, basing themselves on their own experience, are beginning to draw revolutionary conclusions. What is needed is not this or that petty reform, but a root-and-branch transformation: to overthrow “the political class in its entirety.” But that is just what a revolution means!
Iraq, Tunisia, Sudan…
In Iraq also, several waves of mass protests, originating in the Shia areas, have shaken the whole political set up. Since 1 October, massive and radical protests have rocked the country. Starting this time in Baghdad, they have quickly spread nationwide. The Iraqi armed forces and police responded with extreme violence, resulting in the deaths of at least 150 people (some sources claim over 300), and the wounding of more than 6,000. However, the brutal response has not halted the protests.
In Tunisia, wave after wave of mass protests have shaken the country. And in Algeria, a powerful revolutionary movement has overthrown the ailing Bouteflika and shaken the regime from top to bottom. In Algeria, the regime thought it had bought sustained social peace in 2011 after they dramatically increased state spending.
In Sudan, we saw a movement of the masses with tremendous revolutionary potential, which shook the ruling circles throughout the region. The courage and determination of the youth, and especially the Sudanese girls and women were truly inspiring. The Sudanese working class emerged to challenge the regime by launching general strikes, which posed the question of power.
The same was true of Algeria. All this shows that the Arab Revolution still possesses huge social reserves. But how does one explain such phenomena? And what do they represent? Superficial observers and empiricists are struck dumb by events that they did not anticipate and for which they have no explanation. The shallow empiricists of the bourgeoisie only look at the surface of events (the “facts”). They do not trouble themselves to look beneath the surface to uncover the deeper processes that are at work everywhere.
The molecular process of revolution
Trotsky once said that theory is the superiority of foresight over astonishment. The sudden, violent manifestations of popular discontent always take the bourgeoisie and its hired “experts” by surprise. That is because the bourgeois “experts” have no theory (except the theory that all theory is useless) and therefore are consistently astonished when events suddenly blow up in their faces.
In order to arrive at a real understanding of these subterranean processes, the dialectical method of analysis is absolutely necessary. The bourgeois naturally have no understanding of dialectics; the reformists have even less, if that is possible. There is no need to mention the sects in this respect, since they understand nothing at all. Their complete lack of any perspective is the main reason why they are all in crisis.
Trotsky coined a really remarkable phrase: “the molecular process of revolution.” It is worth giving some thought to that phrase. Trotsky was referring to dialectics, and without an understanding of dialectics, one cannot understand anything. The process of a change in consciousness in the masses normally takes place gradually. It grows slowly, imperceptibly, but also inexorably, until it reaches a tipping point where quantity changes into quality and things change into their opposite.
Over long periods, it expresses itself as a slow accumulation of discontent, anger, rage, and above all frustration below the surface. Here and there, there are symptoms, small signals, that can only be understood by a trained observer who can see what they signify. But this is a book sealed with seven seals to the thick-headed empiricist, who, while always insisting on “the facts”, is blind to the more profound underlying processes.
The philosopher Heraclitus expressed his contempt for empiricists when he wrote sarcastically: “Eyes and ears are bad witnesses for men who have souls that understand not their language.” The Bible expresses the same idea with different words: “Eyes have they, but they see not.” No matter how many facts and statistics they accumulate, they always miss the point.
Britain and France
Sudden and sharp changes are implicit in the situation. Such sudden explosions are a symptom of the underlying current of accumulated rage and discontent of millions of people, which is actually directed against the system. They are a clear symptom that the capitalist system has reached a dead end on a global scale.
Some people might try to argue that revolutionary developments, such as the ones we have quoted here, are only possible in poor, economically underdeveloped nations. But this is entirely false. Dialectics teaches us that, sooner or later, things change into their opposite.
An excellent example of this is Britain. Just four years ago, Britain was regarded as the most stable country in Europe, maybe the world—now it has been completely turned upside down and is probably the most unstable country in Europe. The “mother of parliaments” was once famous for its calm serenity, but it was suddenly convulsed by crisis and division. In place of serenity, there have been scenes of absolute chaos.
British society is sharply polarised in a way that has not been seen for a very long time. It is this polarisation that most alarms the capitalist class and its ideological apologists. They are alarmed because they have a dim awareness of the fact that such polarisation contains within itself the germs of future revolutionary developments.
Ever since the crisis of 2008-09, there has been a slow process, a gradual accumulation of discontent. That represented a fundamental break in the whole situation internationally. And it was a break in every sense of the word. Now we can see the molecular process of revolution that Trotsky talked about. This is a silent, invisible process. It’s something intangible. You can’t put your finger on it because it takes place beneath the surface. But it’s there all the time, burrowing away like a mole.
In the past, the British people were regarded as intrinsically conservative and organically impervious to any sort of revolutionary impulses. They had solid institutions that acted as an impregnable bulwark against revolution: the parliament, the House of Lords, the Monarchy and the rule of law. People had respect for these institutions, which guaranteed social peace and political stability.
Now all those comforting illusions have been shattered. The old confident faith in parliamentary democracy has been fatally undermined. There is a growing distrust in politicians and contempt for the Westminster elite. That is very dangerous for the ruling class. If people are no longer content to hand responsibility for their lives and destinies to the caste of professional politicians and bureaucrats (“the people who know”), they may one day decide to take matters into their own hands. That was precisely what happened, not long ago, in France.
In November 2018 the movement of the gilets jaunes suddenly emerged, apparently out of nowhere, when huge numbers of ordinary people took to the streets. That clearly showed a revolutionary potential exists. Even Brexit, in a peculiar way, shows the same process. In many other countries the same sense exists: a profound mood against the establishment. But we also saw how the so-called left completely failed to provide any organised expression to that revolutionary mood.
Catalonia has also seen an explosive protest movement in October after the sentencing of political prisoners, who are currently in jail because of their part in organising the independence referendum in 2017. The harsh jail sentences (totalling over 100 years) for the "crime" of exercising a democratic right, were met with an outburst of fury and anger, with hundreds of thousands coming onto the streets, blockading roads, railway lines and Barcelona airport.
Faced with brutal police repression, tens of thousands of protesters, mainly youth, defended themselves and fought back, with burning barricades and daily running battles for a whole week. A general strike took place on October 18, in which a huge crowd descended onto Barcelona, organised in five different columns that had marched on foot from different parts of Catalonia. The petty-bourgeois nationalist parties that have been at the forefront of the movement for a Catalan Republic are increasingly discredited, but no alternative leadership has been provided.
These are the tremours that herald the approaching earthquake. The mood of discontent of the masses, finding no reflection in the traditional mass organisations, expresses itself in different ways in different countries. But what is fundamental is the irresistible process of radicalisation of the masses on the global scale, which is expressed in violent swings to the left and right. The process of radicalisation will intensify as the crisis unfolds, provoking an even sharper polarisation between the classes and preparing the way for even bigger revolutionary explosions.
The present situation and the tasks of the Marxists
Marxists are optimistic by their very nature, but our optimism is not something that is false or artificial. It is based on solid analysis and perspectives. We base ourselves on the solid rock of Marxist theory. Our organisation can be proud of the fact that we’ve remained absolutely firm on the fundamental principles and the dialectical method, which enables us to penetrate beneath the surface and see the deeper processes at work.
The period through which we are passing, will be seen as a moment of fundamental change, a turning point in the whole situation. Not long ago this assertion appeared to be contradicted by the facts. The world economy seemed to be trundling on, and in fact, bourgeois economists highlight that this is the longest recovery in history. But now events are accelerating at breathtaking speed. Only the dialectical method of Marxism can provide a rational explanation of processes to which the hopeless bourgeois empirics are completely blind.
In many ways the present situation resembles the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. The bankers and capitalists are constantly flaunting their wealth and luxury. The world’s richest one percent are on course to control as much as two-thirds of the world’s wealth by 2030, as they sit on trillions of dollars, which they do not invest in productive activity. The ruling class is parasitic and completely degenerate. This is stoking the fires of anger and resentment everywhere.
There is huge potential for the spread of Marxist ideas. That is the main thing that we must concentrate on. We must discuss the fundamentals: not the incidentals, but the general tendency. What is the common thread in all of these situations? Extreme political and social polarisation. The class struggle is on the rise everywhere.
We are growing and developing—but we are too small to be a decisive factor in the unfolding of events in the immediate future. From our point of view, it would not be a bad thing if decisive revolutionary situations were to be postponed for a while, for the simple reason that we are not ready yet. We need time to build the revolutionary alternative.
History moves at its own pace, and it will not wait for anybody. In a period like the present, gigantic events can occur before we are ready. Sharp and sudden turns are implicit in the situation. We must be prepared to face up to big challenges. The best workers and youth are already wide open to our ideas. We must find the road to these layers and turn our backs decisively on the old, tired, demoralised elements. All traces of scepticism and routinism must be eliminated from our ranks, which must be infused with a spirit of urgency from top to bottom.
This is really a race against the clock. Great events can overtake us. We must be prepared. Therefore, we must build our organisation and recruit and train people as soon as possible. That is the only road to success. We have already entered that road. Nothing must be allowed to distract us from this task. Let our slogan be:
Long live the world socialist revolution!