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From The Socialist newspaper, 27 June 2018

The gathering new world disorder

The G7 leaders put on a brave face for the media, despite the increasing tensions between their rival capitalist states, photo Shealah Craighead/CC

The G7 leaders put on a brave face for the media, despite the increasing tensions between their rival capitalist states, photo Shealah Craighead/CC   (Click to enlarge)

Robert Bechert, CWI International Secretariat

Trump's claims of success after his recent Singapore meeting with Kim Jong-un were in complete contrast to the downbeat mood among most of the other world leaders who had been with him at the preceding G7 summit in Canada.

This collection of capitalist leaders really had nothing to say on the key issues facing the world. The G7's decline was sharply symbolised by Trump withdrawing US agreement with its final communique.

This largely token example of Trump's "America first" policy was followed up by something more significant, the imposition of extra tariffs on a range of Chinese exports to the US.

These steps, along with the earlier imposition of extra duties on steel and aluminium imports to the US, have increased fears among Trump's opponents and some key sections of US business that these penalty tariffs could trigger a trade war, or at least a slowing down of the world economy.

Taken together these steps, and other developments like the Russian regime reasserting its role in the Middle East and elsewhere, are opening up a new chapter in world relations.

The clashes between individual leaders were not just the result of Trump's bluntness, ego, making up his own fake "facts", and rapid switches of policy. More fundamentally they reflect the changes taking place in world political and economic relations as rivalries and instability increase at a time when the international economy has still not escaped from the consequences of the capitalist crisis that began in 2007-08.

A key fundamental has been the rise of newly capitalist China as a world power and the relative weakening of US imperialism. This decline is one reason Trump is using tariffs against China.

Historically the leading power in any epoch has stood for free trade, due to its dominance of the world market, as Britain did in the 19th century.

Additionally, the international strategic dominance which the US enjoyed after the collapse of the former Soviet Union is over.

But, despite China's rise and increasing international role, the US remains the world's leading economy and the predominant global military power.

World economy

Added to this volatile international mix is the future character of work as a result of the far-reaching structural changes which are taking place both in national economies and in the world economy as technology and digitalisation further develop.

A key question will be who benefits from these changes - the capitalists and a small elite or the mass of humanity.

Currently many of these developments are being used to boost profits and sharpen competition at the expense of workers.

Against this background the world economy has been growing again, albeit at a slower rate than before the 2007-08 crisis.

However much of this growth is based upon the use of debt to try to overcome the continuing after effects of this crisis.

Just in 2017 total world debt rose by over $20 trillion to $237 trillion, equivalent to $30,000 for every human being on the planet, something which has given rise to fears of a new financial crisis at some stage.

Simultaneously the European Union (EU) is faced with its own issues of tensions between its members, the effects of Brexit, preventing a renewed euro currency crisis, dealing with the impact of the migrant inflow and its own relative international decline.

All this has resulted in sharpening contests between the rival powers to maintain, or increase, their share of a slowly growing and more intensively competitive market.

Trump's administration does not mind the instability its actions are creating. They view it as striking their rivals off balance and freeing US imperialism from some of the constraints brought about by working jointly with other powers.

Trump is also always looking to keep his domestic base secure. Most of his tweets are aimed at them, a regular diet of boasts of what he has "done", nationalism and populist attacks on those who oppose him.

Alongside right-wing support, a significant part of Trump's base are those whose living standards were falling already before the recession and felt ignored by what they saw as an elite establishment.

Thus Trump keeps promising to "make America great again", bring back good quality jobs and hypocritically attack those fellow members of the US ruling class who dare to oppose him.

But, in many ways, the situation in the US is not unique. Around the world there is anger and alienation that is undermining existing institutions and structures, including parliaments and political parties.

Growing polarisation

Already in many countries before the 2007-08 crisis, years of neoliberal attacks and setbacks for the workers' movements had resulted in a growing polarisation of wealth and undermining of living standards both for the working class and sections of the middle class.

Along with the fact that many of the banks, which are popularly seen to have triggered the 2007-08 crisis, have returned to making huge profits this will only reinforce this bitterness.

A further source of bitterness is that the recent limited economic growth has not, in many countries, resulted in sustained real rises in workers' or middle class incomes and conditions.

In Britain the Bank of England estimates that the richest 10% of families each benefited on average by 350,000 thanks to its quantitative easing operations between 2009 and 2014, each getting around 1,345 extra income each week, and have certainly gained more since then.

After the crisis's onset, country after country saw protests, whether in terms of industrial battles, mass demonstrations or the birth of new political movements.

However, so far, these developments have not led to decisive change. This is largely due to those leading such movements lacking a programme to, or not being willing to, challenge the capitalist system.

This failure, most strikingly seen in the betrayal of the Syriza leaders in Greece in 2015 when they agreed to implement austerity policies, has often opened the way to the growth of right populists and far-right parties.

However, Trump's victory itself has spurred on opposition within the US. Fearing future electoral defeats he is desperate to hold his base together by presenting himself as an "outsider" and blaming others for all his failures.

Trump's crude tactics, often based on divide and rule both domestically and internationally, can themselves increase turmoil and provoke rapid changes.

Despite its international character, much enhanced by globalisation, capitalism by its very nature is rooted in the nation state, something that produces rivalries, clashes and is the source of repeated conflicts and wars.

But it is not only Trump's policies which are causing disruption. Tensions are escalating again within the European Union. Not since the 1930s have international capitalist divisions been so open.

The polarisation taking place within the US shows how Trump's policies, enrichment of his own family and personal behaviour are all provoking opposition.

At the same time the combination of limited economic growth and huge jumps in many companies' profits in the US is beginning to encourage workers to press their demands.

Significantly total US trade union membership grew by 262,000 last year, and three-quarters of the new members were under 34 years old.

This year has already seen a wave of teachers' strikes, often organised from below by the rank and file, demanding extra spending on education alongside better wages and conditions.

But in the US itself the growing interest in socialism reflects a search for a way forward for society.

Among those looking for an alternative there is an understanding that the victories for the right, first George W Bush and now Trump, were the results of popular disappointment with Bill Clinton's and Obama's presidencies.

This is why building a socialist alternative to the turmoil and disruption of capitalism is so necessary.

There will be struggles over important issues like living standards, oppression, the environment and democratic rights along with protests against the policies of capitalist politicians.

Policies and strategies to win these battles are vitally necessary, as Socialist Alternative (US co-thinkers of the Socialist Party) argues, but to achieve lasting change they need to be linked to building, or re-building, a socialist movement independent from, and opposed to, capitalism...

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