Capitalist crisis continues

Working class must and will play decisive role

Over 300 people from 26 countries attended the summer school of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) from 20 to 25 July.

Serious and sober discussion assessed the situation and charted the road forward for the class struggle and the building of the forces of revolutionary socialism on a world scale.

Plenary discussions were held on the world situation, Europe, and the building of the CWI, as well as over a dozen commissions to discuss a series of issues and regions, including Latin America, South Africa, the Middle East, the transitional method, national question and more.

Below we publish extracts from a keynote speech at the school by PETER TAAFFE, general secretary of the Socialist Party, on world relations and the perspectives for capitalism and the world workers’ struggle.

  • For a full report on the discussion on the world and other reports, see
The much trumpeted economic 'recovery' is fake for millions, photo Paul Mattsson

The much trumpeted economic ‘recovery’ is fake for millions, photo Paul Mattsson

Both the CWI and the capitalist economic experts conclude that their system has failed. Even in the advanced capitalist countries there is mass unemployment, unparalleled inequality and poverty.

The neocolonial world is in a nightmare. Desperate people scramble over fences in North Africa and the US, or risk death by crossing oceans to reach a ‘better life’, which often proves illusory.

The OECD predicts this wave of immigration will continue and also paints a picture of the conditions desperate people are fleeing – which already exist in the germ in Europe – becoming the norm in advanced capitalist countries.

Capitalist economists accept that the ‘new normal’ is stagnation. They also agree with the points the CWI has made – that the supposed ‘productivity miracle’ of information technology was overestimated and any lasting benefits have already been achieved.

Automation and robotics have the potential to liberate humankind – yet under capitalism they will be jobs killers. 47% of jobs in the US are threatened by new technology.

Will capitalism continue to be accepted, even for another 50 years? We cannot, of course, determine the longevity of the system. This depends on the preparedness of the working class, to mobilise, organise, seize the opportunity and take power.

This, in turn, means the building of an organisation, a party that will be able to achieve and cement the working class’s power on a national and international scale.

But one thing is certain: capitalism will be challenged again and again by unparalleled mass movements, a taster of which we have been given in the last five years.

The current chaos and turmoil of capitalism largely arises from the effects of the 2007-08 crisis. The rhythm is different in each continent but is felt everywhere, including by those continents and countries which have up to now escaped most of its effects.

Different rhythms

Australia has had a 23-year boom but is now joining the rest of the world because of the slowdown in China.

Like elsewhere in Latin America, Brazil will see mass movements resumed with ferocity after the World Cup. A growth rate of 7.5% in 2010 has now fallen to 1%! The current president, Dilma Rousseff, is likely to win the election with a reduced majority – but anything is possible.

In effect, the epicentre of the world movement against capitalism at the moment is in the Americas, north and south. Europe, on the other hand, is suffering a mild reaction, arising from workers’ frustration that their colossal mass movements have battered the foundations of capitalism but for the moment have been contained by the capitalists.

This is largely due to the lack of leadership, with no alternative on offer and, in some cases, outright sabotage from the ‘leaders’ of the mass organisations both on the political and trade union field. This will change in the next period.

The much trumpeted economic ‘recovery’ is fake for millions, shallow at best. The US has not been able to drag the rest of the world out of recession. There are no bright spots for capitalism. Inevitability, resistance by the working class will resume in Europe and elsewhere.

This, in turn, signifies the development of mass movements, which we’ve already seen in the Egyptian revolution and all the convulsions in the Middle East. Revolution is not one act but a process.

Counter-revolution has the upper hand at the moment but new outbreaks of mass resistance are likely. The last rites for the movement are being read by superficial commentators. This is entirely premature.

US ‘recovery’

“The US recovery simply refuses to live up to expectations,” wrote the Economist. It is true that for four straight months there has been jobs growth of 200,000 or more but population growth has been larger. Therefore, the tendency is for unemployment to become permanent and its accompanying poverty is above pre-recession trends.

Where recovery and economic growth does take root, the mood of workers will be: “we want our share”.

Capitalist economic theoreticians like Larry Summers and Robert Gordon believe there are not sufficient investment opportunities to absorb the world’s ‘savings glut’. They expressed deep pessimism for the system; ‘secular stagnation’ is taking hold, which means a catastrophic employment position for workers and particularly youth.

Rising debt

In desperation, capitalism is attempting to create the conditions of growth through mass privatisations. The Economist, at the beginning of the year, looked towards a vast looting of state assets internationally, up to $9 trillion worth, equal to the GDP of China!

The ‘Great Recession’ has also damaged capitalist globalisation, with collapsing cross-border finance and trade in goods and services.

Debt levels in advanced countries are higher than before 2008. However, the piling up of debt is seen as the only method of fuelling growth under capitalism. The crisis in European banks continues with the collapse of Portuguese bank Espírito Santo.

This process includes China, with debt levels rising from 130% of GDP in 2008 to 220% in 2013. If the brakes are applied, there will be an economic slowdown with massive consequences.

The Hong Kong mass demonstrations are highly significant with the admirable determination of youth, eagerly participating against their parents’ wishes. Despite the pleadings of their bosses, workers also took part, which upset the Beijing regime. It has responded in a heavy-handed way because it fears colossal political effects on China.

This shows that a small group with the right policies can become a significant, even mass, factor. The proverbially accidentally dropped match could trigger revolution, which is inherent in the situation. One city in the mainly Muslim Xinjiang province has actually banned matches!


Seattle’s election of a socialist councillor, Kshama Sawant, and the $15 minimum wage victory has shown the way the working people of the US, where opportunities are presented, can make a significant impact. One factor is the openness of US workers and youth to the ideas of socialism and Marxism, if they are presented in a skilful and audacious manner.

This is partly because the advanced workers and youth in the US are not weighed down with the baggage from the past of discredited social democratic and communist parties and their rotten policies. Also the small economic recovery helped to give confidence to the fast-food workers to strike.

The unions did not properly follow this up but Seattle did in the election of Kshama and the 15Now success. This in turn has resonated throughout the US, leading to tremendous growth in the authority and influence of Socialist Alternative, co-thinkers of the Socialist Party.

Of course, the weakened position of the US ruling class and its inability to deliver for the 99% has led to an intensification of the class struggle.

Socialist councillor Kshama Sawant on a 15 Now demonstration in Seattle, photo Alex Garland

Socialist councillor Kshama Sawant on a 15 Now demonstration in Seattle, photo Alex Garland   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

In Britain and Europe also, the crisis of legitimacy of the capitalist institutions is striking.

Obama is in trouble over his healthcare scheme and the monstrous deportation of immigrants particularly children. On spying he has alienated allies and Angela Merkel has, for the first time expelled a CIA agent.

The outcomes of both the US mid-term elections and the next presidential elections are not clear. The two-party system is in crisis with millions, particularly of young people, alienated and looking for an alternative. The idea of a new mass radical or socialist party of workers will emerge at a certain time.

US capitalism is still the largest power economically and militarily. That is one of the reasons why socialist success like Kshama’s election resounds internationally. But it has been severely weakened, not least because of the actions of George Bush Jr and the ‘neocons’ post-9/11.

They claimed then that the US had become the sole dominant unilateral power; the “Vietnam syndrome” had been abolished. We warned of the inevitable blowback, in the US itself and internationally. The US population is now more opposed to foreign adventures than after the Vietnam War. This mood, particularly among the youth, was strong enough to check Obama, and Cameron, over the proposal to bomb Syria.

Author Francis Fukuyama famously proclaimed the “end of history” in the wake of the collapse of the Stalinist powers. He claimed victory for permanent liberal capitalist democracy.

Yet he now finds difficulty fitting this model into the realities of the Middle East and North Africa where we have seen mighty revolutionary events, but also now a phase of counter-revolution reflected in new dictatorial regimes in the region.

In 2001 the CWI said the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq would lead to at least three ‘Saddams’, and this is unfolding before us. There are now likely to be three states: the Shias in the south, the Sunni in the central areas and the Kurds in the north.

Borders fixed 90 years ago have disappeared. The Economist said: “Iraq and Syria are no longer considered countries”. We also warned that intervention would give chances to the Taliban, Al Qaeda and now its stepson, the Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) and of ‘blowback’.

It is estimated that Isis has just 15,000 core troops, with up to half that coming from Europe. It defeated the Iraqi army, not because of its inherent influence or strength, but because former Ba’athists and other completely alienated Sunnis went over to its side.

The largely Shia Iraqi army was not prepared to die for the corrupt and discredited Malaki regime.

The net result of US intervention in the region is an arc of sectarian war from Pakistan to Iraq, Syria and the rest of the Middle East and beyond, with incalculable consequences, not least for the unity of the working class, the only hope of escape from this impasse.

Working class solution

Our opposition to military intervention in Libya has been justified by the current position, disintegration and rule by different warlords. There is no shortcut to advancing a programme which sees the working class as the solution to the current sectarian impasse. Foreign policy is only the continuation of home policy.

It should not be forgotten that the Arab Spring, beginning in Tunisia and then Egypt, was primarily economic and social not religious. The alienation of the youth and the working class, driven by the incapacity of Mubarak to solve the accumulated problems, drove the Egyptian revolution which we predicted would break out, not least because of the dramatic rise in unemployment.

Even in Syria it was the drought of 2006-10, which drove predominantly starving Sunni peasants into the burgeoning slums, that fuelled the 2011 uprisings, which were legitimate but, because of the absence of a socialist leadership, then degenerated on sectarian lines.

On top of this absolute horror comes the new war of Israel against the Palestinians. Hamas was isolated and the tunnels were shut down by the Egyptian regime because of its (and the Saudis’) hatred of the Muslim Brotherhood, co-thinkers of Hamas.

The fear of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu of a prolonged ‘occupation’ of Gaza is that Hamas is bad enough but that the alternative of the growth of Isis-style organisations is worse.


Ukraine and Russia have been the other hotspot in world relations. We adopt the same class criteria, seeking to emphasise the commonality of workers’ interests irrespective of their nationality. We cannot and should not support, even critically, Putin’s Russian regime and its alleged approach that it was fighting a ‘fascist’ government in Kiev. It was pursuing a policy primarily determined by the interests of the Russian state and those it represents, the oligarchic gangster capitalists.

Initially, there were big elements of independent movements of the working class in the creation of their own militias and independent councils but this was obscured by the presence of Svoboda, the Right Sector and fascists in Ukraine. But the far right’s real influence was shown by winning only 3% of the votes in the presidential election.

We support self-determination for Crimea but ‘foreign liberation’ can ultimately undermine this. Only a democratic constituent assembly, convened by a united movement or a democratically controlled referendum can guarantee this in Crimea and South-Eastern Ukraine.

Neither do we support the Kiev regime but seek an independent working class axis, and critical support of the socialist forces, even though they might be weak.

A new period of intensified conflict has arisen between the US and its allies, and Russia. The US also in its pivot towards Asia has increasingly come up against China’s attempt to assert itself, with its new economic strength.

Socialist future

World capitalism is in turmoil and incapable of solving any problems: economic, social, environmental, war and peace. Socialism is knocking at the door of history. It may seem strange to say this when the active forces of socialism appear to be very weak.

Yet out of the chaos of capitalism today, mass movements will arise. Leon Trotsky, through the horrors of World War One, saw the socialist future and the inevitable outbreak of revolution, as did Vladimir Lenin even though the latter thought it was a distant prospect.

Yet Lenin assiduously prepared the forces to intervene in this revolution. That is what we are about today. There is a socialist world to win, which opens up a vista not just of plenty, but opportunities to develop all the talents of all peoples of the world. This is a perspective worth fighting for.