The following document was presented to and agreed by the International Executive Committee of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI), which met 23-27 January 2023. The Socialist Party of England and Wales is a section of the CWI, which fights for socialism across the world.
Capitalist society is convulsed and in turmoil. Marxists and the working class face one of the most challenging periods in history. It is essential that we analyse the processes unfolding and face up to the theoretical and programmatic challenges posed, along with the active intervention in the class struggle necessary to build a mass revolutionary socialist alternative. The CWI will be tested in every aspect of our work. We must be prepared to meet the challenges and opportunities posed in this era of the protracted death agony of capitalism. It is not possible to analyse or comment on every aspect of the world situation that is unfolding given the lightning speed of events and breadth of global developments. In this thesis we can only address the main trends and draw the necessary conclusions from them.Capitalist equilibrium is broken in all its aspects: economic, geo-political, social and class relations. Convulsions and turmoil are consequent on this and are reflected in sharp polarisation on all continents. There is an upturn in the class struggle in some countries, but also national and ethnic conflicts, wars (both military and tariff) and, in some, strong features of social disintegration and even collapse. Such is the era we are now living in.The optimism and hope held out by capitalism in the middle of the 20th century, and then promised again following the collapse of the former Stalinist states in 1990/1, has been shattered. Any prospect of a return to those eras of relative capitalist stability is a utopian dream. Features of revolution and counter-revolution are now locked together in a drawn-out struggle. The challenge facing the working class and Marxists is to find a way forward through a revolutionary socialist alternative.
The nature of the new era, as we have argued, is now summed-up by the dissident bourgeois political economist Nouriel Roubini in his latest book, Megathreats. “We are facing a regime change from a period of relative stability to an era of severe instability, conflict and chaos. We are facing megathreats unlike anything we have faced before – and they are interconnected. We totter on a precipice, the ground shaking beneath us. Yet most of us still imagine that the future will resemble the past. That’s a whopping mistake. New warning signs look clear and compelling. Economic, financial, technological, trade, political, geo-political, health and environmental risks have morphed into something much bigger. Welcome to the era of megathreats: they will alter the world we thought we knew.”
As the CWI has argued in previous theses, capitalism faces a series of multiple and inter-related crises. Roubini, despite offering a broadly accurate assessment of what the future holds for capitalism, unlike Marxists, has no alternative to the current market system.
The nature of this phase of capitalism is underpinned by the relative decline of US imperialism, which still remains the strongest power, (reflected in it having approximately 750 military bases around the world) and the rise of Chinese state capitalism, together with a prolonged crisis in the world economy. The economic and financial crisis which hit in 2007/8 marked a turning point in the history of capitalism. Despite some short, shallow upturns a new period of protracted crisis began.
The crisis following 2008 has already been one of the longest in capitalism’s bloody history. Yet there seems no end to the prospect of the system stumbling from one economic calamity or upheaval to the next. The measures taken following 2007/8 by the ruling class have brought with them new problems such as the shadow financial systems which further undermine stability. All of the dominant trends and indications point towards a protracted, drawn-out series of deeper crises, interspersed with short, shallow, feeble upturns. This means higher levels of exploitation and misery for the working class and middle class globally. Yet, what are the implications of this economically, and, crucially, politically and socially?
When capitalism has reached such an impasse in the past it has led to wars and conflict such as the 1914-18 war and the destruction of the productive forces. The Second World War, combined with the strengthening of the Stalinist states, and other factors, allowed the system to ‘reboot’ and usher in a period of unprecedented growth and development which ended nearly three decades later. Yet, the prospect of world war is not posed today because of political factors, the balance of class forces and the danger of a world conflict developing into a nuclear Armageddon. Wars, local and regional, as we see in the Ukraine, Africa and elsewhere are however taking place and will continue in this era.
Marxism has, in the past, wrongly been accused of predicting a “final crisis” of capitalism. This was never the method of genuine Marxism which explained that capitalism would survive if not overthrown by the working class. However, while this era cannot be defined as the “final crisis” of capitalism, the extremely protracted nature and depth of the crisis is becoming unprecedented. This will pose new issues both economically and politically. Some of these are already present in the world situation, others are yet to emerge.
A protracted death agony of capitalism does not mean that short periods of GDP growth cannot take place. At present the world economy is seeing a shallow growth, albeit lower than anticipated. Growth is lower in 2022 than 2021 when it grew by 5.7%, yet the anticipated 2022 growth of 4.1% was scaled-down to approximately 2% at the end of 2022. All the indications are pointing towards a recession in 2023, or even, possibly, a depression – in some countries an economic depression is very likely. As the latest IMF report concludes, all the main engines of global growth – the US, Europe and China are slowing down. The Chinese and Indian economies continue to grow but at a slower rate. The developing crisis will mean even this reduced growth is unlikely to be sustainable in the medium-term. At least one-third of the global economy is anticipated to be in recession in 2023 and for the rest “it would feel like recession for hundreds of millions of people”, as the IMF put it.
Not Like Other Crises
During the pandemic millions of jobs were lost. This crisis, like all others, has its own features and differences with previous ones. In previous crises, GDP contracted and unemployment rose. In this crisis, up until now, in the US and other imperialist countries, GDP has contracted but unemployment has remained relatively low with labour shortages. The situation in the neo-colonial world is somewhat different. Also in previous crises, profit increases in US companies were in single digits. Today they are in double digits. In addition over US$4 trillion in cash is stashed away in the US by the major corporations. This does not mean that the crisis is less severe. On the contrary, despite the existence of low-paid jobs in the main imperialist countries and some other countries, a deep systemic crisis exists. The decline in GDP with low unemployment will not be sustainable indefinitely. In many countries the onset of a new recession this time will lead to a hard landing, with massive job losses. This could at a certain stage develop into a global hard landing.The World Bank in its latest report warns of a new world recession. All projected growth figures have been revised downwards. The industrialised countries growth projections have been revised down from 2.5% in 2022 to 0.5% in 2023. The US now teeters on the brink of recession with growth projected at only 0.5% – 1.9% lower than previous forecasts. China was previously one of the locomotives for the global economy but the slow-down is already having a crucial effect. This can be further compounded by the effects of the COVID pandemic which has resurged in China. Consumer spending was down 6%. Although the opening-up of the economy may give rise to a certain bounce back. But as was seen in the capitalist west this can be unstable and uncertain, especially if there is an explosion of COVID infections, as seems likely. The IMF now expects the Chinese economy to grow only at, or below, any growth in the global economy. This is the first time in this has happened for 40 years during which time it grew at a faster rate that the global economy. The recent fall in financial markets reflects the pessimism which now exists.
The current crisis also differs from previous ones in another crucial aspect. In the post-second world war era the economic cycles were generally contained and short in duration (e.g. the 1970s), with low levels of debt in the imperialist countries. This is no longer the case. The threat of recession or depression is posed alongside an explosion of debt in the main imperialist countries. This is a new element and is critical for economic perspectives. The “mother of all debt crises” is looming.
Tsunami of a Debt Crises
By the end of 2021 global debt – public and private – was over 350% of global GDP! In 1999 it was 220%. The debt ratio has never come close to this level in the imperialist countries or even most neo-colonial countries. In the imperialist countries the debt to GDP ratio is already hitting 420% and rising! The coming debt tsunami will not spare China where the debt mountain has reached 330% of GDP.Argentina possible leads the way in “debt management”. In August 2020 it defaulted on debt repayments for the fourth time since 1980 and the ninth time in its history. It still carries a public debt burden of US$300 billion – about equal to its entire economic output in 2020. It is also ravaged by inflation which is likely to go over 50% in 2023.
Today the world economy as a whole increasingly resembles ailing Argentina! We need to be prepared for the possibility of upheavals, on the scale of those that have rocked Argentina throughout its history of debt turmoil, breaking globally or at least in a series of countries. Sri Lanka, where the debt crisis was a central question, is an anticipation of what is coming elsewhere. The recent rise in interest rates has already resulted in the poorest countries increasing repayments by 35% – a crippling hike for the poorest countries. The rise in interest rates means in reality the end of the era of “cheap money” at this stage, aggravating recessionary or depressionary pressures globally. The prolonged period of “cheap money” corresponded to an era following the collapse of the former Stalinist states, China being a low wage assembly hub for the world and other factors. Today the world situation is entirely different. Any return to low interest rates, or “cheap money” which is possible at some point, will be short lived and not have the same effect as it did in the previous era.
The threat of a debt tsunami crashing down exists against the background of the return of inflation in all countries and the resulting cost of living crisis. Following the 2008 financial crash, deflationary pressures were the dominant feature with lower levels of debt than today. The difference in 2023 is that the threat of recession/depression is present alongside an inflationary spiral and an explosion in global debt. These are crucial differences of an incendiary character. The threat of Argentinean-style stagflation now exists for some countries in 2023 and beyond. This is unlikely to be a uniform threat in all countries but it could develop on a wider-scale throughout the global economy. Political factors in some countries may result in the ruling class temporarily “managing” a debt crisis. However, this will be firefighting a crisis which will explode at some point.
The spike in inflation, caused not by rising wages, but by previous monetary policies and fuelled by rocketing government expenditure/debt during the pandemic, supply chain problems, the Ukraine war, and other factors, will not be a short-term problem for the capitalist class. The possibility of the return of hyper-inflation, especially in some neo-colonial countries, is posed.
As living standards have plunged or fallen for the mass of the global population, corporate profits and the wealth of the super-rich have exploded. In the US, in the first half of the year, corporate profits were at the highest they have been since the 1950s. The same is true in other countries. Partly driven by the war in Ukraine, profits at the world’s seven biggest oil firms soared in 2022 by £150 billion! The major corporations have hoarded billions in the past period with minimal levels of investment taking place. According to some reports, hoardings are up from US$1.6 trillion in 2000 to approximately US$6 trillion at the end of 2022.
The long awaited “green growth” which sections of the bourgeois and petty bourgeois “left” argued would offer a lifeline to capitalism has been extremely limited. The introduction of renewable energy projects requires huge investments which capitalism in this era is not prepared to undertake om the scale necessary. Roubini argues that the development of this sector has pushed up the cost of the metals needed to produce the products and triggered what he dubs “greenflation”. As the problems mount, some countries, like China, the UK and others, have reverted back to, or increased, coal production.
Mega projects, like ‘The Line’ in Saudi Arabia, which promised to build a city free of cars, streets and be entirely pollution free, are being cut-back or cancelled, and, in the case of ‘The Line’, will not get off the ground. This does not mean that no investment in this sector will take place, but it will be limited and not offer a way out of the crisis. Denmark, which is likely to reach 100% sustainable energy supplies from wind turbines in a few years, will be the exception rather than the rule.
There is another aspect to the current world situation faced by capitalism. There is a rapid acceleration and development alongside intense competition in new areas such as AI, robotics, quantum computing, and nanotechnology for example. The consequences of these developments, if applied, will have explosive consequences as millions of jobs, including in middle class sectors of employment, are replaced by new technology. The technical and scientific advances being made can come into collision with the capacity of capitalism to apply them on a generalised basis. Vast investment is taking place to develop these sectors and there is intense competition between the US and China to research them.
However, it is uncertain how capitalism will be able to introduce them throughout the economy, especially during a recession, and particularly given the high cost of investment needed. It will not provide the basis for a 4th Industrial revolution opening an escape route for global capitalism. Yet, even where they are applied they will not be able to overcome the fundamental contradictions of the system. Rather, they will add to the problems faced by capitalism. The massive job losses, disruption and dislocation that flow from introducing technology will provoke explosive and potentially revolutionary developments. It will also pose crucial questions for building and organising the trade unions and labour movement. The scientific and technological advances which have taken place potentially can have an enormously beneficial effect for humankind. Yet capitalism will not be able to apply it for the benefit of the mass of the population. A democratic world socialist plan would be tremendously enhanced and benefit from the potential developments in science and technique which are taking place.
The speculative bubbles built into the global economy, reflecting the vast weight of finance capital, have burst in some sectors, revealing how unstable the underlying situation is. Investors have reeled, in the worst year for global financial markets since 2008. Global stocks lost about a fifth of their value during 2022. Tech and crypto shares crashed in value. Apple lost 27% of its share value, Amazon halved and Tesla lost two-thirds.
Amazon and Mega-Entities
The massive growth of mega-entities like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, USP, Walmart and others, with tentacles wrapped around the planet, is one feature of the current phase of imperialism. They have morphed into massive powerful entities with bigger economic turnovers than many nation-states. They have acquired some of the features of elements of an almost virtual state.
These global machines, in an era of increasing protectionism and national regulation, will not be inclined to accept restrictions and limitations imposed on them by national governments or states. It is an extreme indication of how the development of capitalism has come into contradiction with the limitations imposed by the nation-state. This does not mean a new “super imperialism” is taking shape but it can lead to new twists in the situation. It may pose the possibility of them acting by themselves or together to defend their own interests. It could lead to two-tier systems of governance in which they are excluded from some national regulations or control. An element of this already exists in some countries in free trade and other special economic zones which have been formed. Amazon has raised the question of it establishing its own cities! One writer in Bloomberg UK even posed the question – why not give Amazon and Facebook a seat at the UN? – so powerful have they become. The task of unionising these workplaces assumes a greater urgency than ever. This task will not be easy but the process has already begun.
Capitalists and Left Lack of Programme
The ruling classes have not had a coherent policy or programme to find a way out of the crisis. Through massive state intervention and expenditure, especially during the pandemic, they took measures to prevent a collapse in the economy, and, in effect, adopted a policy of ‘kicking the can down the road’. However, this has its limits and is not preventing the crisis hitting now. Even with increased state expenditure and intervention they cannot ultimately overcome the contradiction of falling living standards and the need to create a huge additional market to prepare the way for an economic boom which they cannot do..
Supposedly “new” ideas about how to deal with the crisis, such as Modern Monetary Theory, are being exposed as “wishful thinking” in the face of the unfolding crisis. Ideas such as “degrowth” are totally utopian given the depth of the crisis facing global capitalism. They are all formulated within the capitalist system and none of them pose the challenge of breaking from it. They all propose operating within the boundaries of capitalism which is in a systemic crisis. They are only a pale reflection of the left-reformist policies of the past which at least posed the idea of an alternative socialist system to capitalism.
Multi-polar world, “deglobalisation” and regional blocs
The process of “deglobalisation” continues with the increase in trade and tariff conflicts. The US economy is increasingly protectionist. How far “deglobalisation” goes is uncertain given the interdependence that exists in the world economy. However, there is a pronounced tendency in this direction at work. A trend towards the Balkanisation of the world economy is present. Unstable blocs and realignments are formed geo-politically as a consequence of the end of a unipolar world. Yet these can also collapse as internal tensions and divisions develop.
On the one hand, western imperialism and the US are attempting to establish groupings and blocks as a counter-weight to meet what is now officially dubbed the “systemic challenge” of China. The formation of AUKUS in the Indo-Pacific region was created specifically for this. China on the other hand is pushing ahead with strengthening its influence globally. Yet even AUKUS provoked tensions and division amongst the western powers. Middle-powers like Saudi Arabia, India and Turkey are adapting to the multi-polar world by establishing links directly with China and Russia as well as the US. Other blocs are also emerging or are present. All have their own internal contradictions and are unstable. The BRICS is being strengthened by Argentina’s application to join.
However, Mercosur is beset with division as Uruguay breaks ranks and tries to open-up trade negotiations globally. In the Middle East, major changes are underway in interstate relations between the different regimes. The highly unstable situation there can be dramatically complicated by the election victory of the far-right in Israel. Within the EU there are underlying tensions and divisions that have been revealed during the Ukraine war. These can intensify during a new economic recession or sharp downturn.
It is also possible that the increase in trade and tariff conflicts will be accompanied by the outbreak of currency wars. The US dollar remains, at this stage, the main global currency. However, it can be weakened and challenged. China is attempting to uncouple itself as much as possible from the dollar and pull others under its’ influence in the same direction. In a period of deep economic crisis, with unstable currency markets, the trend towards holding reserves in gold increases. Significantly, 2022 saw the largest purchasing of gold by central banks for fifty-five years indicating that some governments are diversifying their reserves away from the dollar. This reflects the geo-political situation and uncertainty about the future. Other currency crises could also erupt. Recession in Europe could force another crisis in the euro, especially with Italy facing a debt to GDP ratio of 150%.
The depth and protracted nature of the systemic crisis that capitalism now finds itself in means that the working class and Marxists need to be prepared for major shocks and upheavals. These will be on an even greater scale than we have seen during and since the pandemic. The convergence of a series of multiple crises poses the prospect of turmoil and convulsions on a scale not seen historically. A global economic collapse cannot be excluded during this decade, which would provoke unprecedented social, political, and national upheavals.
A crisis of political leadership exists globally for the working class. There is also a crisis of leadership of the capitalist class. How to resolve this crisis of leadership of the working class, organisation and political consciousness is the task exists. In this the CWI and its cadre have an historic responsibility to face-up to.
Ukraine and Set-Backs for Putin
The decline of US imperialism and the rise of China, and the clash between them, dominates the world geo-political situation. The former is facing a political and social situation with increasing polarisation and conflict between factions of the capitalist class and a potentially explosive situation between the classes at all level. The latter is faced with economic slow-down and the beginnings of a social and political crisis under Xi Jinping’s particular form of bonapartist state capitalist regime. One character of the era is reflected in the war in Ukraine which is a product of the new world situation.
Putin made a massive miscalculation in his underestimation of the degree of resistance the Ukrainians would put up and then the resolve of western imperialism to seize the opportunity to undermine and weaken his regime. Some would like to use the opportunity to see the end of his regime. The conflict has been extremely bloody with over 125,000 Ukrainians killed and millions flooding into exile. An equal or possibly more Russians have also been killed, injured or have fled into exile. This conflict has already had crucial consequences on geo-political relations and politics.
Russia has suffered unexpected military set-backs, partly as a consequence of high morale on the Ukrainian side – mirrored by low morale on the Russian side – heavy and advanced weapons supplied by western imperialism and also the poor state of the Russian army – which has been revealed in the conflict. It remains uncertain how the war will now develop. Following the fall of Kherson to the Ukrainians a stalemate exists on the battlefield.
Faced with a series of military set-backs Russian forces have stepped-up the strategy of missile attacks aimed at destroying as much Ukrainian infrastructure as possible. At the same time it faces new problems of dwindling supplies of drones and missiles and also Ukrainian ability to attack military bases, including inside Russia itself. The latest of which seems to have had deadly consequences, killing hundreds of Russian soldiers. Ukrainian capacity to develop such attacks further is uncertain. Zelensky is under pressure from western imperialism not to attack bases inside Russia itself.
The longer the war continues, with no end in sight, and increasing Russian casualties, the more certain mounting opposition to it, and the Putin regime, becomes. At a certain stage it may pose an existential threat to Putin’s mafia bonapartist regime. The most vocal opposition at this stage is from extreme nationalist pro-war elements. The fear of many western leaders is that should Putin fall, at this stage, his replacement would not be more pro-western but more Russian nationalist. Should a peace agreement of some sort be reached it will not only be Putin who faces a crisis. Zelensky will also face growing opposition in Ukraine at a certain stage.
Opposition to Putin will grow should the war drag on for lengthier period of time and the body bags continue to mount. As both sides gear up for a spring offensive in 2023 a new bloodier phase of the conflict is now possible. It is not excluded in a scenario where Putin is confronted with further setbacks and a desperate situation that Putin he may still strike-out and use a tactical nuclear weapon or other weapon of mass destruction. Should he do so, it would provoke mass protests and a mass anti-war movement internationally. That Putin has put this issue on the table is a reflection of the new era. It cannot be ruled out that such a weapon will be deployed by another, or even more despotic regime, such as North Korea, or other ‘rogue’ regimes which may come to power in the coming period.
The prolonging of the war is already resulting in a certain “war weariness” setting-in in some countries. With the onset of recession/depression this can strengthen. Bourgeois western leaders will increase the pressure on Zelensky to negotiate a “deal”. This will not be easy and is not the most likely short-term prospect. However, even if a deal is eventually formally signed in practice, on the ground, a bloody conflict in some form will continue, especially in the east.
The war and its evolution have impacted on geo-political relations. US imperialism has used it to try and reassert itself internationally. However, tensions and divisions between the western imperialist powers have also opened and will become greater the longer the war drags on. The US’s reasserted international role during the crisis is, however, relatively limited, and does not signal a return to the unipolar world of the past. That era is past and cannot return.
Russian set-backs on the battlefield have led China, India and other states to adopt a more cautious approach to giving full backing to Putin in the war. However, neither have they condemned him. Economically the ties between Russia and China have been strengthened, with bilateral trade between the two growing by 32% in 2022, reaching a record US$172.406 billion. Russia accounts for 2.7% of Chinese total trade turnover. Yet Russia’s largest trading partner is China, which Putin is dependent upon. Exports of oil from Russia to India have dramatically increased during the war. India has been importing enough Russian oil to then re-export it elsewhere. The set- backs suffered by the Russian military have also weakened its influence in the states of the former Soviet Union. As the clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan indicate, the whole region is more unstable following the war in Ukraine.
The war in Ukraine is the main flash point of the geo-political struggles taking place in the multi-polar world which now exists. The CWI has a distinct analysis and programme on it compared to the left and revolutionary left. However, the crisis rocking US society and the beginning of the crisis developing in China are of crucial international importance. They are decisive for world events in the next decade and particularly for the class struggle.
China and Emperor Xi
The Congress of the Chinese Communist Party marked the culmination of Xi Jinping’s concentration of power into his hands, crowning himself Emperor Xi with unlimited powers. This represented a change in the form of the regime. Xi Jinping has more power concentrated in his hands, and that of his faction of the CCP, than any leader since Mao. Following the death of Mao there was a more collective check spread amongst a wider layer of the bureaucracy. A similar development took place in the former Soviet Union following the death of Stalin. Xi and his faction have moved away from this to a far greater centralisation and concentration of power in his hands.
Xi’s ruling faction, in the run up to the Congress, appeared to be involved in a factional struggle within the party, which it won. Xi’s faction appeared to clash with a section of the ruling elite that opposed the unchecked centralised control exercised by Xi which threatens their own particular interests. A section of the capitalist class which is more independent comes into conflict with the party and state which wants state capitalism but controlled and under its direction. A section of the capitalist class linked to the party and state dubbed by some as the “bureaucratic capitalists” as opposed to the more independent “private capitalists”. The struggle by Xi was conducted under the guise of combating corruption. China has established a special form of state capitalism as we have explained. However, this has brought with it its own contradictions. The growth of a capitalist elite but where the state could still intervene and take control of ailing companies to safeguard its own interests, inevitably resulted in a clash of interests in some sectors. The degree of state intervention can, and will, oscillate, depending on the situation. Recently, state intervention in the economy, in a state-capitalist form, has increased significantly reflected in the takeover of the Evergrande building company.
Yet, no sooner had the party congress cemented Xi’s control, than a crisis developed, arising from the COVID lockdowns that were imposed. The protests that erupted against the bureaucratic, authoritarian lockdowns were extremely significant. COVID, as in other countries, has widened the vast social inequality which is present in China. The harsh lockdowns have hit the poorest and working class the hardest.
The protests themselves appeared to have been extremely varied and confused. Some sang the national anthem, (in clashes with the police singing the words “rise up” and “not to be slaves”) others the Internationale. Some chanted “down with Xi”, others that they were not against the party, but “wanted freedom”. Some chanted in English. Some, dubbed the “white paper revolution”, echoed some of the demands of sections of the capitalist class. Despite this confusion and lack of clarity the significance of what they potentially represent should not be underestimated. These seem to have been followed by strikes of workers in the COVID testing centres who have been threatened with redundancy.
The regime, responding to the pressure, and the economic consequences of widespread lockdowns, was forced into a U-turn, only weeks following the party congress. The easing of COVID restrictions is leading to a surge in COVID infections and potentially millions of deaths. This will also have economic consequences and is likely, at a certain stage, to lead to further social upheavals. Exactly how this is reflected politically is not certain, but it will lead to further divisions amongst the massive party apparatus and, in all likelihood, regional differences and clashes breaking-out. The party has over 96 million members and five million local party organisations. Approximately one in fifteen Chinese are members of the party. This is a powerful social force, still with a certain social base of support, which the regime can mobilise. However, this can also fracture at a certain stage under the impact of a slowdown or deeper economic and social crisis.
Sections of the ruling elite and capitalist class may well don the mantle of champions of “democracy” and support demands for “democratic freedoms”. They could particularly appeal to sections of the large, highly-educated middle class. Such a development could be a harbinger of more powerful struggles erupting amongst the Chinese working class – the largest in the world. Developments of this character will have a global impact. It will be necessary for the CWI to further develop a programme and demands which correspond to the situation. Demands which combine features of the social revolution, and also some elements of the political revolution, will be necessary in the complex upheavals which are implicit in the situation unfolding in China.
The unfolding of the domestic crisis in China can have major consequences internationally, especially in relation to the rising tensions in the South China Sea. A major military build-up has been taking place by both US and western imperialism and China. Japan is also vastly increasing its military capacity. The heightened global tensions, combined with a domestic crisis in China, can drive Xi to intervene and try and take Taiwan back into mainland China, whipping-up Chinese nationalism and provoking a military collision with the US and western imperialism. This has been a long term political aim of Xi Jinping who would like to be recorded in history as the leader who took Taiwan back into mainland China. Although, his own political motives are not the only factors that will determine if this takes place. At the same time other flash points in the region include the disputed Senkaku, or Diaoyu, islands between Japan and China which could also spark a conflict.
US in Crisis
The unfolding crisis in China is mirrored by the social and political crisis in the declining, but still largest imperialist power, the US. The existence of a parallel crisis unfolding in the two largest powers globally is critical to grasp the nature of the era we are now in. The turmoil in the US has many features. A chasm is opening socially with bitter polarisation and alienation. Summing-up the situation, the Financial Times in London argued that the US working class has been “shipwrecked” by attacks which have endured for the last fifty years. This represents the protracted decline of US imperialism.
The Biden presidency has been marked by very low approval ratings as he has failed to take measures to alleviate the consequences of the social and economic crisis. After two years in the presidency his approval rating stood at 38% – the same as Trump at a comparable time. The mid-term elections, despite delivering a small majority to the Republicans in the House of Representatives, in effect resulted in a draw between the Democrats and the Republicans. In the House of Representatives election the aggregate vote of the Republicans was about 50% – 3 million more than the Democrats. Overall, with a higher electoral turnout, especially amongst young and female voters, the Supreme Court ruling on Roe v Wade in reality saved the Democrats. The serious right-wing attacks on abortion and other issues mobilised enough voters to prevent a complete Republican victory. Yet the elections will not open a stable chapter for US imperialism. Biden faces the prospect of becoming a lame duck president.
The ruling class seems determined to remove Trump from the chess board as prosecution seems an increasing possibility. The mid-terms were a defeat for Trump and have increased division and tensions within the Republicans, revealed in the battle within the party for Speaker of the House. The drama of such a struggle has not been seen for over one-hundred years. The outlines of a split in the party are present and it is likely to face a major crisis. At the same time there is the growing possibility of the right-wing populist from Florida, DeSantis, emerging as a Republican leader, replacing the increasingly discredited Trump. The onset of recession and the failure of Biden to offer a solution to the crisis points to the next presidential election becoming a battleground again with a sharp polarisation. The generally low-level of engagement in elections and party political activity can strengthen the prospect of a growth in strikes and social movements on economic and social issues.
Biden was dubbed as the most pro-labour President since Roosevelt. Yet the imposition of the contract on the railways and the outlawing of a rail strike shows how hollow such a claim was. The so-called “left” in the Democrats, like AOC, Sanders and others, capitulated and supported this attack on workers’ rights revealing their real cowardly character.
The increase in strikes and significant victories in winning union-recognition ballots, including at the EV General Motors car plant, are a pointer to the beginning of a new chapter in re-building the labour movement and an upturn in the class struggle. This, along with vital social issues such as the fight against police repression and racism, is set to become the major arena of struggle in the run-up to the next presidential election.
The right-wing populist stance of DeSantis can allow the Republicans under his leadership to threaten a defeat for the Democrats, especially if Biden’s lacklustre lame duck presidency continues and the recession hits hard. DeSantis, or DeFuture, as the New York Post prefers to call him, has, on a populist basis, clashed with Disney and large companies in the cruiseliner and pharmaceutical sectors. The absence of a mass workers party, or even a radical left-populist party, leaves a vacuum for right-wing populist forces to step in as Trump has illustrated. The removal of Trump from the board will not mean an end to this threat. The highly polarised situation can result in many clashes of a violent character. With the potential of a deep recession and political crisis of this magnitude unfolding, some existing tensions could develop further. This includes localised conflicts between various states and even the federal government. This trend in the future could strain the unity of the US on social and political lines.
The upheavals shaking US society are part of the unfolding crises of polarisation and upheavals that are taking place globally. An international ‘perfect storm’ in geo-political and class relations, the economy and environment is gathering. It is beginning to stretch the fabric of society to its foundations. Polarisation, class conflict and social alienation are on the rise. These features, that are already present, are only the beginning of the process. The coming storm will mean they will assume an even harder, sharper and more brutal form.
Neo-Colonial World Devastated
Areas of the neo-colonial world are facing carnage. Wars continue in Ethiopia, Syria and elsewhere. Nigeria faces ethnic clashes and a rising tendency towards social disintegration. Lagos is projected to become one of the most polluted cities with the highest level of unemployment with the appalling social consequences which flow from this. Haiti is a failed state which now barely exists as a nation, with gangs controlling whole swaths of the capital and the country, in which the government has all but ceased to function. The nightmare facing Pakistani society following the floods and disastrous drought which devastated the country illustrates the situation in much of the neo-colonial world. The massive debt burden that Pakistan is carrying on its back means that the country will not recover from the destruction and devastation of the floods for more than a generation, if ever, prior to a socialist revolution.
Madagascar has been ravaged by drought for more than five years illustrating how the environmental crisis is now directly impacting economies and the social situation with apocalyptic consequences in some countries. Hunger, famine and destitution are present in these and other countries and developing in the neo-colonial world on a scale not experienced previously. This has all contributed to an unprecedented migration crisis which is set to intensify in the coming period. This will have political implications on all continents and the far-right will attempt to utilise it to strengthen its support which will need to be challenged by the working class and socialists.
The Character of Multiple Uprisings
Crucially, however, there have been extremely powerful features of revolution in the multiple mass uprisings which have taken place, especially since 2019. The movements in Ecuador, Chile, Colombia and across Latin America were accompanied by uprisings in Iraq, Sudan, Lebanon and elsewhere.
These have now been joined by the mass uprisings, unprecedented in their scale, in Sri Lanka and then in Iran. The scale of the movement in Sri Lanka, if not the political consciousness, surpassed anything which has taken place there. It included many extremely positive features, especially in partially pushing back the divisions between the Sinhala and Tamil peoples.
The movement in Iran represents a new departure in the struggle against the theocratic regime. The heroism of the women, particularly the youth, and the demands they have put forward, go right to the heart of challenging the base of the right-wing reactionary regime. The strikes which took place during this movement were very significant and illustrate the crucial role of the working class in eventually overthrowing the regime.
Crucially, in Sri Lanka, the calling of a general strike marked a crucial step forward, as did the strikes that have taken place in Iran. All of these movements, in which bitter accumulated hatred against the ruling elites exists, illustrated the revolutionary potential in collective mass action. The burning of the houses of MPs and driving-out of the president graphically illustrated this.
However, they have all also revealed the obstacles that need to be overcome in organisation, party, and political consciousness. They all assumed a spontaneous, or semi-spontaneous, character and lacked a rounded-out political objective. The spontaneous elements initially had a positive effect, in that the old organisations and leaders could not hold the movement back. However, dialectically, this turned into its opposite as the limits of spontaneity allowed the ruling class to retain control and themselves in power. A degree of apparent relative stability has generally followed.
However, none of the underlying social and economic causes of the crises that provoked these movements have been resolved. Crucially, none of them was crushed in a bloody military coup despite brutal repression being used against the protests. This partly reflected the weaknesses of the movement and its character, which meant that the bourgeoisie did not need to resort to military coups as they did in the past or will in the future. These factors mean that at a certain stage the movements can re-erupt on an even higher level.
The absence of revolutionary socialist leadership and socialist organisation, and the role of those leaders which did emerge, is one decisive factor. However, the character of these movements also reflected the throwing back of political consciousness in general which has taken place. They were on a far lower political level than the revolutionary movements which have taken place historically in, for example, the 1920s, 1930s or the 1970s. During the movements, political consciousness did advance on specific questions. But it also had its limitations and did not go far enough. As the movements stalled, it often retreated. Political consciousness is not fixed or static and will pass through many ebbs and flows depending on the situation.
Engels commented on the reasons for the victory of counter-revolution in Germany in the 19th century, saying that, yes, the leaders were inadequate, but he also stressed that this was not the only factor. The leadership was also a product of the class forces involved in the movement at that time. We are not faced with the same situation that existed after the defeat of the revolution in 1848. However, an element of the points raised by Engels is present today in that in many movements the working class is not clearly and decisively at their head in a conscious way. The leadership is also a reflection of the period and the political consciousness of the masses.
The masses learn through the experience of struggle, assisted by the intervention of the revolutionary party. A series of such movements and uprisings are necessary for the new generation to begin to learn the lessons of the need for a socialist alternative to capitalism. We should not underestimate the impact of the unfolding crisis on the consciousness of the most combative sections of workers and youth. It can take leaps forward given the conditions which are developing. The role of the CWI in this process is to intervene to assist the most advanced layers draw the necessary conclusions of what is needed in terms of programme, organisation and party, as the comrades in Sri Lanka strove do during the recent movement.
The ideological and programmatic cowardliness of the so-called “left” in this period is stark. They have offered no challenge to capitalism and have capitulated to it, often in the form of lesser-evilism.
Latin America, the Second “Pink Wave” and the New Left
This is most graphically seen in Latin America, which has many lessons for the international situation. The mass uprisings which swept the continent have given way to a second “pink wave” with the election of a series of ‘left’ governments in Chile, Peru, Colombia and now Lula in Brazil. The election victories were a by-product of the revolutionary uprisings which preceded them. However, without exception, the new ‘left’ governments are less radical than those during the first “pink wave”. This is despite the crisis being deeper and more severe. They have all accommodated themselves to capitalism and some, like Boric in Chile, have moved rapidly to the right. Despite his accommodation to capitalism, Castillo was never accepted by the ruling elite in Peru, who enacted a coup to remove him from power. This will not bring stability to Peru but has opened a new round of struggle.
Lula’s victory in Brazil has aroused high expectations and hopes. However, although some significant changes will be introduced to the far-right agenda of Bolsonaro, for example in Amazonia, where action will be taken against the loggers, his government will not represent a challenge to capitalism. The dramatic events involving thousands of supporters of Bolsonaro storming the Presidential Palace, the Congress and the Supreme court in what amounted to an attempted coup to overturn the election result illustrates that the polarisation and turmoil in Brazil has not ended with Lula’s narrow election victory.
This, together with the election results which left the right as the largest block in Congress and controlling 21 out of 27 Governorships means that the right wing and Bolsonaro have maintained an important basis. This means further clashes and upheavals are certain to break out. The Hunting, Shooting and Collectors groups, with approximately one million members are armed and mainly back Bolsonaro. It is also significant that at this stage the military refused to respond to the call of Bolsonaro’s supporters in intervene and carry through a coup although they did not disperse the camps of them outside military barracks.
A massive social and economic crisis exist which means Lula will not be afforded the prospect of enacting radical reforms on a lasting basis. The commodities boom which accompanied his previous terms in office does not exist today and the threat of a global crisis or recession hangs over the new government which will face splits and divisions.
Further disillusionment with these new ‘left’ governments brings with it a warning that the right and far-right can bounce back or make further gains which the workers’ movement needs to be prepared for.
New Mass Workers’ Parties
These betrayals by the ‘left’ in Latina America are a repetition, of those of the so-called “new left” in Europe but on a broader scale. This was clearly seen by SYRIZA in Greece in 2015 and then the capitulation of PODEMOS in Spain, Left Bloc in Portugal and elsewhere. It led to the demise of these parties, and, in Britain, a routing of the Corbynistas in the Labour Party due to their retreat and failure to carry through a struggle to the end and seeking to compromise with the righting of the party. In Brazil, PSOL in effect abandoned an independent position by refusing to contest the first round and then joined Lula’s transition team. These “new left” parties assumed more features of a “populist left” character rather than that of mass socialist workers’ parties.
The need for new mass workers parties and the dual task of building them, and at the same time building revolutionary parties, is more relevant than ever given the depth of the crisis. However, this has been an extremely protracted process so far and may continue to be so reflecting the ideological collapse of the left which has taken place. When the “new parties” failed – like Greece or Spain – it can make the idea of building another new party more complicated. The refusal of the “left” to want to do this – Corbyn in Britain, Mélenchon in France, Sanders in the US – also complicates the process. Yet a layer can learn from these experiences and help prepare the ground for new parties to develop at a certain stage. We need to be ready for a rapid change in this which is possible forced by events but this not certain in the short term.
It is necessary for the CWI to continue to fight for, and advocate, the building of new broad mass workers parties with socialist policies. Yet building a revolutionary party is not dependent on this taking place. We must not wait for new mass parties to develop. A layer during this crisis can be won straight to the programme and ideas of revolutionary socialism and join the party. It is important that we educate the new recruits we win on the question of the dual task and the difference between a revolutionary party and a broader mass party of the working class. We need also to be prepared to make a bold Marxist appeal to the youth and students.
Far-Right Forces and Authoritarianism
The absence of mass parties and of a combative left has been crucial in allowing right-wing populist forces and far-right organisations to develop in some countries. This is not a short-term issue. It is a continuing element in the situation which will ebb and flow. However, the failure of the left to offer an alternative has allowed the right to establish a solid base in some countries. The fact that the election was so close in Brazil, and that the far-right is the largest bloc in the Congress, reflects the failure of the left to build an alternative and that a social base does exist in countries like Brazil with a large middle class and urban poor, for a right-wing populist or far-right fascistic party. The same applies to India where Modi and the BJP have managed to sustain support. According to some reports the BJP in India now has a larger membership than the Communist Party in China.
The election of the far-right in Israel, with the inclusion of the fascistic Religious Zionism party in government, illustrates the process. The vicious nature of the government will have repercussions in the region. Depending on events in Iran it is possible that Israel would attack Iran especially if it gets very close to acquiring nuclear weapons. At the same time the whip of counter-revolution could provoke an explosion amongst the Palestinians and a possible third intifada.
This does not mean we are confronted with a return of the mass fascist organisations of the past. The working class has not been crushed and the class balance of forces is different. We must not underestimate the threat and danger posed however by the far right populist forces and some fascistic groups or parties which exist in some countries. However, reaction also has its limits as the defeat of Trump and Bolsonaro and other situations demonstrate.
One of the factors for the far-right is the discrediting of bourgeois democracy and its traditional parties in some countries amongst some layers. Fuelled by massive corruption, and offering the masses no future, the traditional parties of the ruling elites have often lost their base of support. This was seen recently in the elections in Malaysia. The convulsions, corruption and rottenness of the ANC leadership in South Africa also reflects the putrefying process at work. The increase in attempted assassinations of bourgeois political leaders, by right-wing organisations and individuals reflects this. Recent attacks include Pelosi in the US, where there are 75 prosecutions pending on individuals threatening politicians, assassination attempts on Imran Khan in Pakistan, Christina Kirchner in Argentina and the assassination of Jovenel Moïse, President of Haiti, in 2021.
The appeal of authoritarian regimes to establish “stability” or “order” is very powerful in countries facing social disintegration or collapse. However, where the far-right wins such a base it will result in sharp polarisation and will not open an era of stability. At the same time, the ruling classes in many countries have increasingly introduced repressive, anti-democratic measures and/or resorted to the use of parliamentary bonapartist measures. The struggle against repressive and undemocratic methods is a crucial task the working class needs to confront in the coming period.
Tasks for the CWI and Socialists
The storms that are already crashing down pose the crucial urgency of revolutionaries being prepared for the coming upheavals in every way. We are now in a world facing convulsions and turmoil. Capitalism is in a dead-end and a series of multiple crises are converging towards an economic, social and political tsunami. In this phase of capitalism all of the old certainties have evaporated. The so-called official “left” fail to offer any alternative to capitalism. Ultimately the fate of humankind now rests on the socialist revolution being carried through. The upturn in the class struggle in Europe, the US, Latin America and parts of Asia and Africa indicate the possibilities that will open-up to build support for revolutionary socialist ideas. The working class and the CWI has an historical challenge before us – to reconquer support for socialism and a programme and method of struggle that can achieve it. It is the only road to avoid the barbarism which capitalism will offer in the coming decades.