CWI school 2018

The ongoing capitalist crisis and the struggle for a socialist world

Each year, the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) – the international organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated – hosts a summer school bringing together its members based throughout Europe and the world. The discussions provide an invaluable opportunity for socialists to share their experiences of participation in different struggles, analyse world events, and develop a strategy for building the forces fighting for socialist change internationally. This year, the school took place in Barcelona and was attended by 400 CWI members coming from over 30 different countries. Here, we carry a report written by Kevin Parslow, outlining the opening discussion on the worldwide crisis of capitalism and the development of the workers’ and socialist movement internationally.

Youth and workers in Catalonia marching against Francoist repression, photo Rob MacDonald

Youth and workers in Catalonia marching against Francoist repression, photo Rob MacDonald   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

The CWI School 2018 opened with a lively and confident discussion on the turmoil and upheavals facing global capitalism and prospects for the class struggle and socialism. This session was opened by Peter Taaffe and replied to by Tony Saunois on behalf of the CWI’s international secretariat.

Peter emphasised the developments of a hectic year and the sheer accelerated pace of events, in which the CWI has played a key role in some battles. In particular, he mentioned the great victory in Ireland on the abortion referendum and the similarly tremendous intervention

of our members in the Spanish state in many class battles, particularly on the right of self-determination in Catalonia, and in the protests and strikes over violence against women. Once more, the Students’ Union (Sindicato de Estudiantes) has played an irreplaceable role as a catalyst for mass opposition.

Barbara from the Spanish state detailed the struggles of working class women against oppression and their effect on consciousness. In the Spanish state, there has been a dominance of working class women on these protests, and they are not led by any leaders of the main parties. Izquierda

Revolucionaria (IR – CWI in the Spanish state) had to organise, through Libres y Combativas (Free and Combative, IR’s socialist feminist platform) against the pro-capitalist feminist leaders. They opposed our general student strike on 10 May against the absolving of the so-called ‘wolfpack’ on rape charges, precisely because it challenged the capitalist system.

These kinds of struggles, Peter continued, are part of the worldwide process of incipient revolt – particularly of the youth, of women and working people generally, as we enter a new period of upheaval.

This had been shown in the previous weeks by the colossal parliamentary and social uprising in Mexico that has brought Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Amlo) to power with 30 million votes, after his two previous attempts ended in probable rigging and defeat.

There are now two roads before the new government and the Mexican masses: one towards confronting capitalism and landlordism – not just in Mexico but internationally, including its northern giant and neighbour, the USA. The other road is of compromise, and ultimately setbacks and defeat, as we have already seen in Latin America.

We do not accept the ingrained pessimism of superficial commentators who talk about an ‘inevitable move to the right in Latin America’. There are limits in this period as to what reactionary forces can achieve.

True, Amlo seeks to conciliate the capitalists and played down some social issues during his campaign. But socialists must not underestimate the colossal stored-up pressure of the masses which brought him to power and the mood for decisive change. This will provide the ground for the growth of Marxist forces in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America.

Carla from Mexico emphasised there was no basis for Amlo to build a government of class conciliation. Any reforms will be bitterly resisted by the ruling class. There will be battles, including an opening for industrial struggles to develop.

Peter showed how Brazil exemplifies the volatile situation and the weakness of many governments in Latin America. President Temer has the approval of just 3% of voters with a 2% margin of error either way! His defeat in the recent lorry drivers’ strike shows this weakness. These developments were expanded on by Katia from Brazil.

The Mexican elections are just the latest example of the volatile world we are experiencing, with the dominating issue of world politics being Trump and the fate of the US, including its working class. Linked to this, is the question of perspectives for the world economy and Trump’s role.

There has been an inevitable ‘recovery’ in the US economy, but the jobs created are mainly low paid and insecure. In some cases this has fuelled strikes with workers demanding ‘our share’.

Weak recovery

The chronic crisis of capitalism has not been overcome. This is one of the weakest recoveries on record. The main reason for this is the lack of investment of the surplus extracted from the labour of the working class. The ruling class internationally is incapable of harnessing new technology.

‘Modern’ capitalism – more like senile and decaying old capitalism – shows pronounced parasitic tendencies, preferring to boost shareholders through fat dividends, buybacks and share options. It has long abandoned what Marx called its only justification and historic mission: developing the productive forces, preparing the way for the working class.

Ten years on, they have not learnt anything from the crisis of 2007-08. We predicted the crash, if not its timing, but warned that if the working class did not seize opportunities there would inevitably be a sickly recovery. There will be no ‘final crisis of capitalism’ unless the working class seizes power to change society.

But any recovery now is based on colossal debt accumulation. This is why some of the more farsighted capitalist institutions – like the Bank of International Settlements – have already warned of another crash, and they are right to.

Luckily for the strategists of capital, they had a huge stroke of good fortune in that the collapse of Stalinism took place before the bottom fell out of their system. The planned economies were not only liquidated, but Stalinism’s downfall was used to throw back the consciousness of the world’s working class. The idea of ‘socialism’ all but disappeared under the rubble of the Berlin Wall.

Imagine the effect of the 2008 crash had the workers’ organisations remained intact. We would now more likely be discussing openly either the strategy for the socialist revolution in mass organisations or what to do with our victory.

Instead, the leaders of the former workers’ organisations and trade unions lurched towards the right. The CWI was virtually alone in maintaining the banner of socialism, revolution and the transformation of the world.

The result of the lack of bold leadership was a catastrophe for the working class, in some senses worse than even the 1930s, certainly in its scale in southern Europe. Large swathes of formerly industrialised areas now lie derelict in the US and Europe, while the neocolonial world never escaped its poverty trap.

Middle East

Peter commented on the situation in the Middle East where we see features of the European medieval ‘Hundred Years War’. There is the slaughter in Syria while Turkey opens war on the Kurds and others. Israel has also intervened in Syria while continuing to perpetuate the horrors of Gaza.

But the masses cannot forever tolerate the present situation. The recent general strike in Jordan shows that millions are looking for leadership. Even after the sectarian bloodbath in Iraq, the recent general election saw the bloc of Muqtada al-Sadr with the Communist Party win on an ‘Iraqi nationalist’ platform against some of the more sectarian forces. In Iran, protests including of the trade unions and the youth, have rocked the regime and the masses are losing their fear.

Adam from Israel/Palestine expanded on the role of Iran in Syria. It was seen as an opportunity for Iran to break its international isolation. The defeat of anti-Assad forces in Syria is a defeat for the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia. US control of the Middle East has been very much undermined.

Peter argued that in the neocolonial world the ’emerging markets’ will never ’emerge’ from the depths into which millions are being cast by completely outmoded capitalism and landlordism. The ‘growth path’ mapped out by capitalists for the Asian masses was clearly a delusion. This has caused crises in that continent and Africa, too.

Speakers from some of these countries underlined the depth of the crisis and the fear of the ruling classes. Ferron from South Africa explained that the new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, a former trade union leader but now a billionaire, had introduced anti-trade union laws in hope of preventing strikes.

Wars and economic breakdown, Peter went on, show the failure of the existing system. Mass unemployment in the US and Europe has helped to build the ‘populist right’, and was a factor in Trump’s emergence. Now, there is revulsion at his locking up of immigrant children, ‘fascistic’ in its implementation. The political basis for the emergence of the Trump phenomenon and populism internationally has been the previous failures of ex-workers’ parties or, in the US, the liberal, pro-capitalist Democrats.

However, new struggles are opening up in the leading country of capitalism. Ryan and Chuck, supporters of the CWI in the US, expanded on developments in the labour unions, drawing on the lessons of the teachers’ strikes, the struggle of the transport union in Minneapolis and elsewhere, and the battles opening in UPS.

Keeley, also from the US, outlined the deep class polarisation in the country and the growth of interest in socialism since Occupy in 2011, as well as in reaction to the AltRight. She said that the

victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and a Bernie Sanders supporter, in a New York City primary, should be used to build a real movement against capitalism and play a role in the formation of a new left party.

Peter said that Marxists need to discuss how to work with and influence formations such as the DSA. On the other hand, layers of particularly the middle classes, but also some workers, have turned in desperation to demagogues through history. Trump’s former aide, Steve Bannon, is trying to expand the AltRight’s influence by developing a ‘populist international’.

Trump is like a rampaging infant smashing up the previously accepted ‘rules-based system’ of world capitalism. His unpredictable erratic character has enormously compounded the problems of the capitalist system globally.

This has been shown in the negotiations with Kim Jong-Un and North Korea – where effectively very little has been gained, in his attitude to Nato – which he has previously called obsolete, and also at the ‘G6+1’ meeting in Canada, where he effectively walked out and angered the other leaders by promising an escalation in the trade war.

Victor, from the Spanish State, said the failure of the G7 summit is presented as a first breakdown but, in reality, it is a new failure in a series of summits since the 2008 crisis and not just since Trump. There is the possibility of fights between capitalist powers – imperialist conflict – because it is impossible to solve the crisis of overproduction.

Paul Murphy, TD (member of the Irish parliament), elaborated on Trump’s protectionism. Global supply chains cannot be easily unwound. The lack of growth complicates discussions on the division of ‘the cake’.

The decisive influence of US imperialism was an important factor in the post-war boom. The current multipolar world gives no country the power to dictate terms. Trump is an active agent of the destruction of the world order and does not fully represent capitalist interests, which is a recipe for an unstable world.

Trump’s trade war

Peter explained that Trump could pull back from a full-scale trade war but could also escalate it. Trump has been warned this could produce a new economic downturn and deep crisis but this has had no effect on him, it seems. China and the EU could also collaborate against him.

Such an outcome threatens a rerun of the Smoot Hawley Act in the 1930s which led to a tit-for-tat trade war which enormously aggravated the depression, with not just capitalists but the working class as the losers. But Trump and his advisers are not really capable of learning from history. The Financial Times has called him a “dangerous ignoramus”!

The post-war ‘General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade’ lowered barriers but was a factor in the creation of trade blocs, integrated and long chains of production, and the international division of labour. This is part of the difficulty of ‘independence’ or ‘Brexit’ on a capitalist basis. A workers’ Brexit and a socialist confederation of Europe would be different. A trade war, though, particularly against China and the EU, would put the world on ‘rations’ and have repercussions in the US.

China is now the main rival economic power to the US, with Russia a strategic rival. In its ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ – a series of projects with inducements and strings – there is a kind of new imperialism, which Jaco from Hong Kong described as “imperialism with Chinese characteristics”. This is something which faces growing opposition.

Vincent from China described the historic developments in the country, with the biggest concentration of power held by one person, President Xi Jinping, since the reintroduction of capitalist features. There has been a transition from collective to one-man dictatorship. There have been protests in China, including strikes which have been on a bigger scale than in the past.

In his concluding remarks, Peter reiterated the explosive world situation and the possibility of colossal revolutionary waves. The real history of Trotskyism – of revolutionary Marxism – begins in the next period.

Rotten capitalism has laid the ground for a new, powerful internationalism and an instrument to further this will be the workers’ mass international which we will build.


The CWI’s fusion with Izquierda Revolucionaria, which was formally agreed one year ago, has already been highly successful. We will work to build the basis of a mighty workers’ international in the decades opening up.

Anthony from Australia, at the beginning of the discussion, outlined the effects of a boom which has lasted for more than 25 years. But this is beginning to change, reflected in the massive trade union demonstration which took place in Melbourne and in the fact that many young people, despite the boom, have lost confidence in capitalism.

“A world in turmoil the likes of which has not been seen for whole historical period” was how Tony Saunois of the CWI’s international secretariat analysed the current international situation when replying to the discussion.

He described the new era of inter-imperialist rivalry as a “convulsive economic, political and social situation”. On the world economy, Tony commented that there are dangerous political warnings: an incredible growth of global debt which increased by $25 trillion in just three months, now standing at 240% of global GDP ($30,000 per person in the world). This cannot be an indefinite process. There are a series of ‘time bombs’ waiting to detonate, such as Italy and Argentina.

The trade wars are representative of the decline of US imperialism. The Financial Times warns of the danger of a new $1 trillion worth of tariffs and it is not clear how far the process will go. Tony reminded the meeting that because of the explosive social consequences, the ruling classes may pull back from an all-out trade war.

He emphasised the crucial importance of developments in the US – especially the recent upsurge in labour disputes and the political polarisation which has taken place. The growth of the DSA was described as extremely significant but it was pointed out that it is important to grasp the limitations at this stage.

In summing up the situation in Latin America, Tony pointed to the different phase of the situation in Mexico compared to other parts of Latin America, where there have been defeats. But in none of these countries do the right’s victories reflect an ideological swing to the right. There is a very fragile basis to the more authoritarian right-wing governments which have come to power in some countries. There have been three general strikes in Argentina since the election of President Macri, for example.

Tony concluded the session by remarking that the world of capitalism and imperialism is dying, but that the new forces have yet to emerge. The situation offers the working class opportunities to fight and the CWI decisive chances to grow.

The CWI, Tony finished, has the clearest understanding of the world situation and we will fight to strengthen our forces, and help build a mass international organisation that can challenge capitalism and reconstruct the world on a socialist basis.