Between February 11 and 15 the first international Conference of Internationalist Standpoint took place. As from today we will be publishing the documents agreed at the Conference. The first document, on “World Perspectives” was drafted between the beginning of November and the middle of December 2022. Although the facts and figures provided are a bit outdated, no attempt has been made to update it so as not to alter the character of the initial document. Afterall, the main emphasis of the document is on the processes under development. After the World Perspectives document, a number of Resolutions agreed by the Conference will also be published. They deal with a) the lessons from the splits of the CWI and ISA, b) environment and c) socialist feminism.
The first document, World Perspectives, will be published in parts. The following sections will be posted in the coming days:
Internationalist Standpoint Conference – February 2023
An epoch of crisis and immense instability
- Capitalism of our epoch is characterized by extreme instability and uncertainty on all levels. It may be correct to say that there is no parallel period in the post WWII (second world war) history of capitalism, in the all-engulfing character of the multiple crises that it is facing. The global economy is heading into another recession, the third since the 2007-9 “Great Recession”. It slowed down dramatically in 2022 and will probably get worse in 2023. Inflation is rising to unforeseen levels, the worst in 40 years (sometimes more than 40, e.g., in the case of Germany). With economies dramatically slowed down by the energy crisis and the supply bottlenecks, governments in all “developed” industrial countries, are raising interest rates, at the fastest pace in decades, to put inflation under control. This is pushing their economies, which are already stagnant, deeper into economic contraction. We have the phenomenon of stagflation, again never seen since the 1970s. Global debt is at unprecedented levels, both private and public. The economists and analysts of the ruling class have no clear way about how to tackle the challenges they are faced with, no economic “theory” that they can hope or present as able to provide solutions to the economic problems they are faced with. The recent “Modern Monetary Theory”, developed in the US, has been ditched as a result of objective developments.
- Last but not least international capitalism is faced with huge geopolitical antagonisms, which have reached a new qualitative stage, manifested particularly by the war in Ukraine. In the background of this war there is the central conflict regarding the world balance of forces, as China is challenging the US as the dominant power on the planet. This contradiction will underline all developments in the epoch that we are living, and will last for decades, worsening conditions on all levels on the planet, unless the forces that fight for a socialist alternative to capitalist barbarism are able to take the lead in social and political processes.
- For the first time in many decades the danger of mass annihilation due to a nuclear war is being widely discussed. At the same time the capitalist system is pushing the environmental crisis beyond the point of no return, threatening life and civilization on the planet.
- All of these factors affect the lives of the working class and the poor in a dramatic way. Pauperization is becoming a feature not only of the poor countries but also of the “developed” industrial ones, while malnutrition affects around 850 million people, while 350 million face acute nutritional crisis, i.e., are in danger of dying of hunger.
- The perception promoted by representatives of the system and by sections of the Left, that society can only go forward, that as time progresses, the economy, civilization and culture, will also progress, is proved once again to be wrong. Civilization can collapse, life not only of humans but also of innumerable species can be massively destroyed. This is not a result of “human irresponsibility” and irrational behavior, as capitalist commentators never tire repeating, it is a direct result of capitalist logic, of capitalism’s insatiable thirst for profit and fierce competition to maximize it and dominate.
- This general picture is posing extremely important tasks for the organisations of the working class. But the picture they present is one of tragic “deficiencies”. The trade unions and the parties of the Left are in crisis: they have failed to provide an alternative to the attacks of the system, never mind to the system itself. Old parties of the Left (“Social-democratic”, “Socialist”, “Labour” or “Communist”) have either sold-out and completely capitulated to the ruling class or broke up in pieces, or both. At the same time, the “New Left” parties that developed in the past 3 decades, have also failed to provide a way forward to the suffering and struggling masses. The anticapitalist Left is also faced with crisis, particularly so in Europe.
- The task of building mass socialist parties of a revolutionary character, determined to fight for the overthrow of the capitalist system and for workers democracy is the only possible way forward and more necessary than ever. At the same time, socialist revolutionaries have a duty to struggle for the building of fighting mass organisations of the working class, something that we have described in the past using the expression “dual task”.
- Even the representatives of capital understand that they are faced with a multiplicity of crises, which they are not really able to handle. The Financial Times has begun using a new term, “polycrisis”, to describe the new situation that they are faced with. Perhaps the most suited person to describe the impasse that capitalism finds itself in, is Kristalina Georgieva, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). At her introductory speech at the last annual meeting of the IMF (10 to 16 October, 2022) she said, among other things:
“We are experiencing a fundamental shift in the global economy: From a world of relative predictability … to a world with more fragility, greater uncertainty, higher economic volatility, geopolitical confrontations, and more frequent and devastating natural disasters…
“That’s why we at the IMF are calling for early and joint action to regroup and rethink… And more willingness to act now and act together…
“Last October,  we projected a strong recovery from the depths of the Covid crisis. Global growth reached 6.1 percent in 2021… But this is not what happened… All of the world’s largest economies are slowing down… This in turn affects emerging and developing countries…
“We have downgraded our growth projections already three times…
“We estimate that countries accounting for about one-third of the world economy will experience at least two consecutive quarters of contraction this or next year. And, even when growth is positive, it will feel like a recession because of shrinking real incomes and rising prices…
“Overall, we expect a global output loss of about $4 trillion between now and 2026. This is the size of the German economy—a massive setback for the world economy.
“And it is more likely to get worse than to get better…”
- Apart from the pessimistic perspectives outlined by Georgieva it is worth noting what she proposes as a remedy: “…we at the IMF are calling for early and joint action to regroup and rethink… more willingness to act now and act together…”. This is precisely what is impossible.
- One of the key reasons for the present multiple crisis is precisely the fact that it is no longer possible for the big powers to act together, and this is manifested both by the war in Ukraine and by the trade war between the US and China (launched by the former). Back in 2008-9, when the “Great Recession” broke out, all the major powers of the planet were able to come together, decide common policies and act together. They provided the global economy with huge liquidity (increased state expenditure, massive drops in interest rates and central bank interventions to help alleviate the problem of rising budget deficits and public debts). The role of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and particularly of China was crucial in this context. BRICS and especially China continued to grow at fast rates, when the US and the EU were plunging into the worst recession since 1929, and were thus able to “drag” the rest of the global economy out of the recession, or to alleviate its impact. Any such coming together today is simply out of the question.
- It is nearly impossible to find any serious expert or institution of the ruling class without a gloomy picture of the coming period – the general approach is that the crisis has not reached its wort point yet. A recent interview by Nouriel Rubini one of the most prominent economists internationally, to Der Spiegel (October 28, 2022) is quite indicative. In short what Rubini said was that:
“The Eurozone is already in recession… It will be long and ugly… The United Kingdom is even worse… In the 1970s we also had an energy crisis, high inflation and stagnant growth…today it’s worse… back then we didn’t have as much public and private debt as we do today… if central banks [further] raise interest rates to fight inflation, it will lead to bankruptcy many ‘zombie’ companies…”.
To Der Spiegel’s question if there is any central bank that gets it right, Rubini’s answer was:
“They are damned anyway… Either they fight inflation with high interest rates and cause a hard landing for the real economy and the financial markets. Or they wimp out and blink, don’t raise rates and inflation keeps rising… this will raise interest on all debts, private and public… We have so much debt right now that something like this could lead to a total economic, financial and monetary collapse…”.
- In the course of the past decade, global debt has risen to unprecedented levels. It now stands at $US 290 trillion, up 80 trillion from 10 years ago (Bloomberg, Nov 30, 2022). It is about 3 times the size of global GDP.
- As long as interest rates were close to 0%, which was the case until the end of 2021, a section of capitalist Keynesian economists thought that any amount of debt could be manageable, on the basis of “recycling” it, i.e., borrowing at zero rates to pay the previous debt and so on and so forth. This was the “modern monetary theory” mentioned above. It didn’t last long, as the rise of inflation forced a rise in the interest rates from below 2% (globally) at the end of 2021 to more than 4.5% one year later, projected to rise to 5.2% by January next year. Interest rates will continue to rise at least in the first part of 2023.
- The very high public and private debt, combined with rising interest rates, means that millions of small businesses and households will collapse, while states will default leading to currency crashes and to the intervention of the IMF to “bail out” countries, imposing at the same time severe austerity policies, i.e., making the working class and the poor pay for the crisis of the system
- The world economy, according to the British newspaper The Guardian
“…faces the possibility of one of the worst debt crises in decades, threatening deep recessions, political instability, and years of lost growth. At the same time, the increase in extreme weather events –stronger hurricanes, recurring droughts– makes life even harder for states that already dedicate a large portion of their revenues to servicing foreign debt…”
- There isn’t much to add to the way the strategists of capital are describing the blind alley in which the system finds itself. The central, immediate problem that capitalism faces is inflation, which coupled with growth rates next to or below zero caused what has become known since the 1970s as “stagflation” (i.e., combining stagnation in the economy with rising prices which up until the 70s economists considered as an impossibility).
- Inflation has re-emerged, giving a bad surprise to bourgeois economists and analysts. In the industrially “developed” global North, it is around 10% (annually). In the global South, of course, the picture is much worse (Source: https://elements.visualcapitalist.com). Of course, the real rate of inflation is always much higher than the official one, particularly as regards the basket of goods consumed by working-class families – this is often as much as double the official rate.
- The rise of inflation is the result of a combination of factors. Initially the ground for it was provided by the massive injections of liquidity by the ruling classes in their effort to cushion the effects of the 2007-8-9 recession. Governments spent trillions to save the banks and big corporations from collapse, creating massive budget deficits and public debts, at the same time as lowering interest rates to provide cheap credit to governments, corporations and consumers. This was undermining the stability of the system for the period ahead. The next turning point came with the pandemic of Covid-19, which forced governments to again resort to massive injections of liquidity to avoid economic collapse. These injections, particularly at a time when production was at a standstill, was creating a discrepancy between demand and supply which was to manifest itself at a later stage. This took place when the lockdowns were over and demand showed a sudden leap which could not be immediately satisfied by the supply chains, thus pushing prices up. This was coupled and intensified by an “energy crisis” in the course of 2021 which was the result of the anarchic way by which the capitalist system tried to move to Renewable Sources of Energy (wind and solar). Without any plan, as is characteristic of capitalism, they increased taxes on fossil fuels and gave huge incentives to investment in Renewables, expecting the market to work… but it didn’t, it created bottlenecks. Then they “blamed” the weather, i.e., the “too cold” winter of 2020 and the “too hot” summer of 2021 for the high prices of energy. All governments and economists expected inflation, which by the end of 2021 was in the region of 5-6%, to fall in the course of the next 1-2 years down to 2% which is the desirable level of inflation for the capitalists. This expectation collapsed with the war in Ukraine of February 2022 and inflation surged.
- The capitalist system has only one way to tame inflation, and this is to contract the economy. The broader and more general picture is that in order for the capitalist system to be able to enter another period of growth and of capitalist profits, it has to destroy a section of the existing forces of production, i.e., close down businesses and increase unemployment, irrespective of the concrete detailed characteristics of different recessions. The mechanisms by which it will try to achieve this is by reversing the policies of the previous period: i.e., cut down on government spending and government borrowing and increase interest rates making borrowing more expensive both for consumption and for investment.
- In other words, faced with the present crisis, the capitalists are forced to follow the exact opposite policies of what they would have liked to do under different circumstances when faced with a recession. In every recession the capitalists increase spending (through borrowing, pushing budget deficits and sovereign debt up) and lower interest rates, making money cheap, to encourage investment and consumption. There policies are the blue print in the case of any recession, what differs is the amounts and the balance between monetary and fiscal policies. This time, they have to cut spending and increase rates, thus pushing the economy further into contraction instead of cushioning it.
- At the same time the ruling classes will fight hard to resist the demands of workers and other suppressed and poor layers to increase their income to make up the losses due to inflation, leading to increased pauperization not only for the unemployed but also for those in work. In the global South this will mean devastation and hunger. Thus, the system is making the poor pay for the crisis of the system. In this way also power and wealth will be concentrated in fewer corporations, the bigger ones, destroying massively small and medium size ones.
- The process of falling real wages is already clear in the official statistics. According to the annual global report of the ILO (the International Labour Organisation of the United Nations) released November 30, 2022, global wages fell by 0.9% in the first half of 2022, for the first time in the 21st century. This means that over the whole of 2022 the drop will be in the region of -2%. The drop in North America was -3.2 % and in the European Union -2.4%
- However, getting inflation back to 2% for the developed industrial nations (for the global South no such targets have any sense of realism) is not going to be easy. There is a number of factors that complicate the ruling classes’ efforts, such as: The war in Ukraine is still continuing and will do so for the foreseeable future; sanctions against Russia will continue for as long as the war goes on and beyond; they want to cut government spending but actually they are forced to continue subsidizing corporations and households (in the rich countries of course) due to the incredible energy prices which threaten millions of homes with a severe winter without proper heating; they are increasing arms expenditure as a result of the “threat” posed by Russia after the war in Ukraine – there is a new, mad arms on a global scale; the rise of the dollar to its highest level in the last 20 years, partly due to the rise of interest rates in the US, is generating inflation for the rest of the planet as the dollar remains the key currency for international transactions – thus in October 2022 inflation fell to 7.7.% for the US but it continued to rise to record levels of 10.7% in the Eurozone. Then there is class struggle: workers have no choice but to fight for higher wages at times of high inflation. Last but not least, the trade war between the US and its allies on the one hand and China and its allies on the other will, as a general rule, push prices up on a global scale.
- At the same time inequality is rising. The covid pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis has greatly increased the wealth inequality between the richest 0.1% of the world’s population and the rest. According to the Bloomberg Billionaires index, 131 billionaires more than doubled their net worth during the pandemic. At the same time an additional 97 million people were pushed into extreme poverty. Although taxation of the rich might seem to be a way to ameliorate the current situation, the structural characteristics of capitalism inevitably put greater resources in the hands of the rich at the expense of the rest. No governments are prepared to take on the markets and corporations and increase taxes. A study by Oxfam showed that 141 out of 163 countries froze tax rates for the rich during covid and 11 reduced them.
- There is a more than evident rise in class struggle in the course of 2022. In the global South, at the time of writing, the revolt of the Iranian women and youth together with sections of the working class is continuing (in its eighth week at the time of writing) after the death of Masha Amini in September 2022. It is the most important, in terms of numbers, determination and duration, rise up against the reactionary Islamic regime of Khamenei and the mullahs since the revolution of 1979 which overthrew the dictatorship of the Shah but was hijacked by the Islamists.
- In July the Sri Lankan masses stormed the presidential palace and president Rajapaksa had to flee to save his skin. The revolt of the Sri Lankan masses had started in March 2022 and led, among other instances, to the resignation of the whole cabinet in April 2022.
- A whole list of countries are candidates for social explosions in the current conjuncture. This is openly admitted by the strategists of the system. The IMF and the UN are warning about hunger revolts in as many as 70 countries. Already the IMF is imposing austerity programs (in this way preparing itself the hunger revolts that it warns against) on a number of countries, like Argentina, Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan, etc.
- In November and into December we had the massive protests in China against the pandemic lockdowns. These protests were not comparable to the previous great rise of the Chinese youth, in Tiananmen Square in 1989, but they have been the biggest since then, spreading to 22 cities and forcing the regime of Xi Jinping to retreat. This comes at a time when in China we see the unique phenomenon of the “lying flat movement” in the youth (which has acquired mass proportions): meaning we cannot fight the regime, but we refuse to serve it, therefore “we lie flat”, i.e., we are passive. The two are inevitably interconnected.
- Just as significantly, but not reported on or commented on in the Western media, was the widespread refusal of the Chinese masses to follow the Chinese State’s Covid protocols. These refusals immediately followed the first of the protests. The refusals were so widespread that within a two-week period, the Chinese State had to admit that they could no longer enforce them and that the data they were gaining from the protocols could not help them control the spread of Covid. This is a significant moment for consciousness in China. The Chinese masses can see that they can act together to bring change to an oppressive set of bureaucratic measures imposed from above. The realisation that the CCP is not all powerful and always correct in its policies is therefore increasing. What effect this will have on future political, industrial and civil struggles remains to be seen. The failure of the Covid App is also a great blow the Chinese State’s attempts at policing society. The App gave the Chinese State unparalleled access to masses of data about the movement of and behavior of the Chinese people and acted as a potent force for social control. The fact that it has now failed to be effective is a great burden taken off the Chinese people and a blow the prestige of the State.
- These few examples are a reflection of the explosive conditions that prevail on the whole planet, which were intensified by the recession of 2007-8-9 (which represented a turning point for global developments). In 2019 these processes took shape on a massive scale, particularly in the ex-colonial countries, with revolts, often of a revolutionary character, in about 35 countries. These were coupled with the impressive youth movement against climate change, starting from 16-year-old Greta Thunberg in Sweden, and with massive feminist struggles across the planet. These movements were interrupted by the pandemic of 2020. Of course, they wouldn’t be able to continue developing in an uninterrupted upward spiral anyway, particularly as no revolutionary leadership existed, but the pandemic did act as a break despite the economic collapse it caused.
- On a continental basis, the most developed conditions from a class point of view are in Latin America. 2022 has not seen major class upheavals on the level 2019 but all of the radicalization of society has been reflected on the political level with what has been described as a “pink tide”, with center-left governments taking power nearly over the whole of the continent. Political instability over the continent is huge. It is not an exaggeration to say that L. America is at “boiling point”, combining deep economic crisis, high deficits and sovereign debts and high inflation.
- The Left in Argentina consider the probability of having another “Argentinazo”, on the lines of the winter 2001-2 mass revolt in Argentina, as very high. In Brazil Lula won over Bolsonaro in the October 2022 presidential elections, but the fight was very tight. Bolsonarismo as a phenomenon remains a grave danger to the Brazilian masses, particularly given the massive economic problems and the fact that, as a result, Lula won’t be able to deliver. In the first half of December the Right wing in Peru and Argentina dealt some blows against its left opponents.
- On December 6, left Peruvian president Pedro Castillo attempted to dissolve Congress, introduce a curfew, rule by decrees and call for new elections. As a result, the Constitutional Court and the Congress decided to remove him from president. He was arrested and awaits trial. Castillo, a rural teacher and trade unionist, from indigenous background, was elected in June 2021 to the presidency and was soon followed by the victories of the center left parties in Chile (Gabriel Boric) Honduras (Xiomara Castro) Colombia (Gustavo Pedro) and Brazil (Luis Ignacio Lula) – to complete the turn to the left on the continent, described as “pink tide”. In passing we should mention that this pink tide was much less radical than the tide of left governments that swept the continent in the 2000’s, with Chavez in Venezuela as the key figure. Castillo had created a lot of hope and expectations to the Peruvian masses but could not handle the systematic sabotage of the ruling class which controls the institutions of the country. After two failed impeachments he was facing a third one. Being a reformist, and therefore unable to understand the need for the mobilization of the Peruvian masses around a revolutionary programme (the Achille’s heel of all reformists) he attempted a “solution” from above, to dissolve the parliament and rule by decrees. This gave the ruling class with a unique opportunity to get rid of him and get things back under their tight control. Castillo’s arrest has caused a mass revolt particularly by indigenous people, which now in progress.
- In Argentina, on December 9th Christina Fernández Kirchner was sentenced by the High Court to 6 years imprisonment in a verdict which if upheld will also ban her from holding office for the rest of her life, accused of corruption and defrauding the state. She was Argentina’s president between 2007 and 2015 –following her husband Nesto Kirchner who was president from 2003 to 2007– and since 2019 she has been vice president. In the period that the Kirchners were heading the government, Argentina enjoyed growth rates of around 8% per year in the early 2000s, and boasted the highest national minimum wage in Latin America. Kirchnerism was able to implement a series of policies that favored the country’s poor, such as providing pensions for housewives, creating a universal child benefit, opening new public universities, etc. Christina (Nestor Kirchner died in 2010) is considered more radical than the current president Alberto Fernández, despite the fact that they both belong to the same ruling party, the Frente do Todos (Front for Everyone).
- These developments are a reflection of the deep crisis of Latin American capitalism, of the inability of reformism to offer any way forward and of the fact that the L. American elites cannot tolerate governments that are led by reformists, even mild ones, using the traditional institutions under their control, the judiciary, the army and police, religion, etc, to destabilize and overturn them.
- Africa is undoubtedly the continent the people of which have faced the worst suffering over the past decades, but also during the recent crises. Africa’s inflation is the worst compared to any other continent. As rising food prices affect poor the most, millions are thrown under the poverty line. The debt of African countries, although overall quite low as a percentage of the GDP compared to industrialized countries, has been continuously rising in recent years and threatens a number of countries with the spectrum of default. The international charity organisation “Debt Justice” estimates that for lower-income countries, debt servicing payments have increased by 120% in the last decade. These amounts of money are sucked up from local budgets in order to be sent to Western banks. The dire state of infrastructure is revealed when looking at energy consumption on the continent. According to the Economist, “Average consumption per person in sub-Saharan Africa, excluding South Africa, is a mere 185 kilowatt-hours (kWh) a year, compared with about 6,500kWh in Europe and 12,700kWh in America. An American fridge uses more electricity than a typical African person.” Africa also faces huge catastrophes caused by the climate crisis. According to the World Meteorological Organization’s report, “The State of the Climate reveals that high water stress is estimated to affect about 250 million people on the continent and displace up to 700 million individuals by 2030”. The recent devastating floods in Nigeria, which destroyed more than 200,000 homes, the four consecutive years of drought in the Horn of Africa, which have pushed 37 million people to face starvation, and the heavy rains and floods in Sudan, which have affected 780,000 people, are a clear indication of this.
- At the same time, important geopolitical developments are taking place on the continent. China has become the biggest lender and trading partner for a number of countries in the region, outpacing the US and Western grip. In the countries of the Sahel, the French military (former colonizing force) are being kicked out from one country after another, because of their failure to win their proclaimed war against Islamic insurgent forces (al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, ect). In these conditions Russian imperialism gains influence through the private military contractor Wagner Group, which is employed to fill the vacuum.
- This is also part of the political turmoil in several African countries. The recent rise in polls of Peter Obi in Nigeria, a side-lined politician running with a tiny party, shows the volatility of the situation. In this context, important industrial struggles such as the ASUU strike in education in Nigeria, or wider social movements, such as the End SARS movement against police brutality in Nigeria and the anti-xenophobia rallies in South Africa, are on the agenda. There are also national struggles taking place, such as the struggle for self-determination in Southern Cameroon or the struggle of the Indigenous People of Biafra. The basic obstacle for political developments and movements in Africa, as well as internationally, is the political limitations of the workers’ organisations.
- In Europe we have many strikes which signify a changing situation in quite a number of countries. The latest two, as this document is being prepared, have being the massive general strikes in Belgium and Greece. During the whole past year, participation in the mobilisations and strikes in Belgium has been impressive and of very high rates (up to 87% in some cases) despite the trade unions being reluctant and even acting as a break at times. There are expectations that this will continue in the next months, especially because salary and allowances adjustments have not been to the same level as inflation. In the case of the Greece, the general strike of November 9 was the biggest trade union mobilisation since 2013-14, at the time of monumental struggles of the Greek working class against the Memoranda and the Troika. France was another country where important strikes took place. In some cases, the fuel supply lines were obstructed for several days causing chaos in the streets and the market. The distillery workers managed to win important salary rises (though lower than their demands). One of the arguments they put forward was demanding to receive their share from the spectacular profits accumulated by the energy companies.In Germany, we also had important strikes, in Spain mass mobilisations in defense of public health, etc.
- The country that comes out more starkly, however, at present, is Britain which used to be lagging behind continental Europe for decades. At this stage, Britain is at the forefront, with many sectoral strikes in conditions of social upheaval and political chaos. Strikes have or are in a process of taking place in the transport sector (RMT and TSSA), health, education, civil servants, local authority and many others. Liverpool dockers won pay deals above inflation following strike action. The same with barristers. Such successes further encourage strike actions. In addition, the emergence of “Enough is Enough” linked to efforts to create a “no pay” movement, and campaigns in defense of the NHS and against climate change, are very important, reflecting the mood in society. However, they are linked to the Labour Party and this will inevitably act as a break, given the fact that the left in the Labour Party, around Jeremy Corbyn, is weak and cowardly. This situation has been reflected on the political level, causing immense instability: Boris Johnson fell before the end of his term after a revolt in the Tory parliamentary group, to be replaced by Liz Truss who only lasted 44 days, before she was replaced by Rishi Sunak. The Sunak government’s refusal to discuss pay with workers illustrates well the pro-austerity response to the global crisis and capitalism’s drive to defeat the organised working class.
- There’s a continual gradual development of class struggles in the United States, particularly centered around efforts to create unions in new industries, like Amazon, Starbucks, Kellogg’s, Apple, etc., and around demands for higher wages, inspired by the success of the “15 now” movement in a number of states. The US has been in many ways in the course of the past decade the most developed in terms of rising class struggles and consciousness in comparison to the rest of the rich industrial countries. It’s been well established in the past years that the majority of young people in the US opt for “socialism” as opposed to capitalism. There is no clear picture of what socialism is, of course, it is rather a kind of proto-socialist perception, but it is still important. The crisis is reflected on the political level, with the Republicans moving in a far-right direction and the Democratic party facing pressure from the Left and through the emergence of DSA (whose membership is in the region of 100,000). There is open talk in the “progressive” media about “civil war” in the USA, particularly after Trump’s abortive coup attempt in January ’21 against Biden’s inauguration. This is a hyperbole at this stage, but is still an indication of the level of anxiety in sections the ruling class.
- The issue of the lack of a consistent socialist or even radical leadership is a complicating factor in the US as well. The great feminist mobilisations and the Black Lives Matter movement, which inspired and mobilized people over the whole planet, have retreated but, what is worse, are now under the complete political influence of petit bourgeois Identity Politics. Also, while the rise of DSA and its recent electoral successes initially gave rise to a lot of expectations both in the US and internationally, it did not take long to show its limitations: on November 30, members of DSA voted in favor of banning a strike called by the railroad workers’ Unions – something which sections of the DSA have described as a “disgraceful betrayal”
- The impact of the economic contraction into which the world economy is heading –triggered by the energy crisis and the war in Ukraine– on class struggle, is different from the impact of the economic recession triggered by the pandemic. Contrary to the latter, the new recession is bound to lead to an intensification of class struggles. Essentially because the rise of inflation is undermining real incomes on a continuous basis and the ruling class will not cover the losses – this leaves no other choice to the working class and the poor but to fight back. Also, because the losses in income due to inflation are seen by the masses as a result of government policies and conscious decisions, whereas the Covid-19 pandemic was seen as an outside factor directly threatening the lives of millions, increasing fear rather than anger. In addition, at the time of the pandemic lockdowns, governments in the richer western countries were spending huge amounts to subsidize companies but also to cover wages and benefits. There were of course notable examples of social upheavals in the course of 2021, but they were exceptions rather than the general tendency. Today, we see class struggle reemerging and the perspective is that this will intensify in the coming period.
- Having said this, the limits with which all of these new movements and social upheavals are faced with should be clear – and this is because of the lack of leadership to really take them forward. But the main point here is that these processes can be expected to continue and develop in the next period. We cannot predict the dimensions they will take. But what is clear is that they will offer opportunities to revolutionary ideas and can also enable the building of broader fighting organisations of the workers and the youth.
- There is a significant layer in society which is searching for radical ideas, particularly in the youth. Environment, feminism, anti-sexism, anti-fascism, remain powerful factors mobilizing the younger layers. But the class to which revolutionary socialists should primarily orient and aim to conquer is the working class – this task can never be lost from sight. It is also correct to say that today, building around the new movements (youth, environment, anti-sexism, antifascism, etc) is a more complicated process than in previous periods, e.g., it is more complicated than in the 2000s and in the first part of the 2010s – there is greater confusion today and a stronger anti-party feeling than then. All of these have to be seen in the context of the Post-Stalinist era, i.e., the period after the collapse of Stalinism at the turn of the 1990s.
Crisis of leadership
- One of the most important examples in recent history of where the lack of leadership can lead to, is the revolutions of 2011 in North Africa, called the “Arab Spring”, in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria. In all four countries we had mighty revolutions which overturned vicious dictatorial regimes, in power for decades. The lessons of the “Arab Spring” come out very clearly: revolution is not only possible, it is inevitable, but if there is no revolutionary leadership to take it to its conclusion, i.e., the overthrow of the power of capitalism and imperialism and the building of a socialist society based on workers’ democracy, it not only can, but will turn into its opposite, counter revolution in the form of devastating civil wars, social chaos and disintegration and new dictatorial regimes.
- Similar general lessons can be drawn from the experiences of many mighty revolts in the past few years. Apart from Iran and Sri Lanka of the current period, the list of upheavals in the past few years is endless: Sudan, Algeria, Hong Kong, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Ecuador, Chile, Haiti, Bolivia, Indonesia, to name only a few. In some cases, we had movements with clear revolutionary characteristics, while some of them were able to score important victories, forcing the ruling class to take back all the measures they had voted through, like for example in the cases of Chile and Ecuador.
- Without revolutionary leadership however even the mightiest of movements are bound to lose; at best they can only achieve temporary gains. The heroic movement for democracy in Hong Kong has suffered a tragic defeat. In Lebanon, the revolutionary upheaval of 2019 failed to provide a way out and the country plunged into chaos, with the currency depreciating more than 90%.
- The most recent example (there’s no point in siting a long list of examples) of how things can turn “into their opposite” is Chile. In 2019 the revolt of the Chilean masses forced the right-wing government of Pinera to take back the neoliberal measures it had attempted to impose. In 2020 the mass movement forced the government to organise a referendum on replacing the reactionary Chilean Constitution of 1980, drafted by the then military dictator Pinochet. In December 2021 Pinera fell and a center-left government led by Gabriel Boric was elected. In 2022 the government of Gabriel Boric organised the referendum on the Constitution that the Chilean masses had been fighting for. In September 22 the referendum took place and 61% voted against the new anti-Pinochet Constitution! It was a stunning defeat, but there is an explanation for it: the Chilean masses were so angry with the policies applied by the “progressive” in words, anti-working class in practice, government of Boric that they voted against the new Constitution as a way to express their anger. It was an anti-government vote, not a pro-Pinochet one.
- There is a deep crisis of leadership of working-class organisations and of the Left on an international level. The Trade Unions as well as the traditional social-democratic working-class parties (named “Socialist”, “Social-Democratic” or Labour”) have completely capitulated to the ruling class making a massive shift to the right, losing the (even mild) reformist character that they had in previous historical epochs. The Communist Parties which had mass influence in large parts of the planet have essentially disappeared – after the collapse of Stalinism they faced splits, collapse, and what remained of them followed the path of the social-democratic parties. In the ex-Stalinist countries, the remnants of the old communist parties are faced with degeneration, capitulating to capitalism and a turn to nationalist policies.
- In the vacuum that was created after the collapse of Stalinism a whole number of new left parties came to the fore. Some of the best known are Communist Refoundation in Italy, Die Linke in Germany, P-SOL in Brazil, SYRIZA in Greece, Podemos in Spain, Left Block in Portugal, etc. All of these started on a left radical programme but moved to the right. Other new reformist parties in the recent period, which have not been put to the test yet, are France Insoumise in France and PTB-PVDA in Belgium. Other attempts were also made in the previous period but ended in failure and have disappeared or are marginalized, like the SSP in Scotland, Respect in Britain and NPA in France, in the 1990s and early 2000s. Europe, once again, was the main birthplace of this “New Left” as we termed it. Apart from new parties, new reformist “phenomena” emerged as currents in parties like the Labour Party in Britain and the Democratic Party in the US, around Corbyn in the former case and Sanders in the latter. FIT-U, an alliance of Trotskyist organisations in Argentina, with a mass appeal of around 6%, is of a different character and will be discussed separately, together with other forces of the anticapitalist left.
- As mentioned already, in their vast majority these new reformist parties were tested and failed. At least two of these “failures” played a key role and represented turning points in the history of the “New Left” of the past 3 decades. The first one was that of Communist Refoundation in Italy, which in the 1990s and early part of the 2000s inspired and mobilized millions across Europe and internationally. In the mid-2000s it entered a government led by the center-left “Democratic Party of the Left” after which is collapsed, split and essentially disappeared. The second was SYRIZA, which after its election in 2015 made a complete about turn, capitulating to the demands of the Troika (IMF, ECB, EU) within hours after the historic referendum of July 5, 2015, which by a huge majority of 61,5% instructed the SYRIZA government to reject the Troika’s terms. The cases of Sanders and Corbyn are also important (though not to the same degree because they were never elected in government) because of the international weight of both the US and Britain: both of them failed to split from their parties and proceed to the creation of new Left parties, when it was necessary; instead, they capitulated to the pressure of the bureaucratic apparatus of the Democratic Party and the Labour Party (i.e., of the ruling class) respectively.
- All the parties of the “New Left” were reformist in character, of various shades. Their failure to provide an alternative had a demoralizing impact on an international level, to different of course degrees in different countries/regions. At the same time, it created a big vacuum which could have been utilized by the anticapitalist and especially the Trotskyist Left. But here unfortunately we had another major failure.
- The majority of the anticapitalist and Trotskyist Left are very sectarian, splitting over secondary differences and unable to work between them – the last example being the fracturing of the CWI into 4 different international groupings. Sectarianism is not a characteristic of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI) which is the biggest organisation internationally, but the latter has moved, historically, to an opportunist direction – the last example being its blunt “pro-Ukraine” position on the war in Ukraine.
- The vacuum in the Left today is in many ways one of the worst in its history – as a result there is demoralization in big layers, a widespread “anti-party mood”, anarchist currents receive attention and support and new reactionary phenomena emerge to cover the ground: Islamic Fundamentalism in the previous historical conjuncture in Islamic countries and a turn to far-right parties, more pronounced in Europe the US and south America in the more recent period. Having said this, there are also positive elements in the picture: processes are taking place, some organisations or currents are arriving, or trying to, at balanced conclusions. L. America seems to be the epicenter of developments in the anticapitalist and Trotskyist Left at least for the present time.
- The processes taking place within the working-class organisations have to be seen within the context of the conditions that were created internationally after the collapse of Stalinism at the turn of the 1990s. Despite the totalitarian character of the Soviet Block which made it unattractive to the workers of the West, its collapse and the capitalist restoration that followed represented a historical defeat for the international working class. It allowed the capitalist class to go on an all-out ideological and political offensive, and lead to the complete capitulation and adaptation to bourgeois policies (what we described in the past as “bourgeoisification”) by all the traditional working-class parties, abandoning reformism even in its more right-wing shades. The ideas of nationalisation and of planning, traditionally strong amongst the masses, suffered a very serious blow, because “they were shown not to work”, according to the propaganda of the ruling class but also because this is what the working-class masses saw on the surface.
- The Trotskyist Left, despite being the only current in the working class which fought against Stalinism, suffered heavy blows and went through multiple splits. This was because the impact of defeat is the decisive factor even when perspectives and ideas are proven to be correct.
- No Trotskyist organisation was able to predict the way things were to develop, but Trotskyism as a current, in theory (i.e., based on Trotsky’s analysis) had the perspective that the Stalinist countries would either move in the direction of a political revolution to establish a healthy worker’s state or back to capitalist restoration. Sections of the Trotskyist Left were very slow to accept that capitalist restoration was a fact in the Soviet Block. Actually, some still claim that it is not complete – e.g. remnants of the ex-Healyite current. Some others, wrongly claim that the impact is no longer present, because the new generations have never known or experienced Stalinism.
- The effects of the collapse of Stalinism are still present, though, of course, not to the same degree as in the 1990s. There still is no visible alternative or challenge to the capitalist system, even of a deformed character, given that not only the Soviet Union has collapsed but also China is on the capitalist road. The present clash between the West and China is an inter-imperialist one. The traditional organisations of the working class have become an organic part of the capitalist apparatuses. Reformism has nothing to offer on an international scale. These elements are also present in the capitulation of the “New Left”. For the popular masses there is no “vision” of an alternative society. Socialist consciousness is lagging far behind what we had on an international level throughout the 20th century, particularly after the October 1917 revolution and until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. No mass left party, of any shade (i.e., excluding the Anticapitalist Left which with the exception of Brazil, Argentina and Ireland, is very weak) is raising the socialist perspective. These elements are “symptoms” of the epoch after the collapse of Stalinism and experience shows that recovering the lost ground and rebuilding mass socialist consciousness takes time.
- In an article at the beginning of November the NYT described how the emotional /psychological well-being of people around the globe is collapsing (NYT article translated in Greek press). This was based on studies by the US polling company “Gallup” which, among other things, asks every year 150,000 people in 40 countries questions about their personal lives and well-being. According to this, stress, anger, worry, anxiety and similar feelings had reached record levels. Other studies have shown that depression is also skyrocketing: anti-depressant medicines increased by about 250% in the 20 years between 2000 and 2020 in 18 European countries (the top five ones being Iceland, Portugal, UK, Sweden and Spain).
- According to Gallup, two billion people are so unhappy where they live that they would not recommend their community to anybody! In 2014, 22,6% of the world population was facing “nutritional insecurity”. By 2020, only 6 years later, this rose to 30,4%. It should be noted that these conclusions by Gallup relate to the period before the pandemic and before the war in Ukraine. In other words, the picture today is much bleaker than the one described.
- There is massive anger and ferment where ever we look. But this is not in itself sufficient to take movements forward, even more so to take them to victory. It can cause mass upheavals or even revolutions, but without leadership these can be defeated or will at some stage retreat. It can cause continual social unrest and political instability, or even chaos, but this does not mean things will move in a “progressive”, i.e., positive from the point of view of the interests of the working class and mass of the population, direction – the opposite can be the case. The fact that the capitalist crisis, economically, socially and politically, leads big sections of the population to desperation, depression and demoralization, rather than collective struggle and optimism for political and social change, is not unrelated to the lack of a left/socialist political perspective from the mass organisations of the working class.
- The deficiencies of the “subjective factor” are leading to an “anti-party mood” as a general international phenomenon, though there are differences from country to country. This has been evident in Latin American countries, Southern Europe, the Middle East, Northern Europe, Hong Kong during the great revolt of 2019, etc. In the quite contradictory and complex environment that Marxists have to struggle today, there is a minority who are moving in a radical direction and are open to revolutionary ideas. This minority is sizeable and could become a decisive force if the anticapitalist Left were able to attract them and inspire them. The anticapitalist Left however, is generally characterized by sectarianism and this puts young people off.
- The anti-party mood is a serious obstacle in the effort to build the kind of revolutionary parties needed to bring about social revolution. But of course, it is not unsurpassable. Another reflection of this is the emergence of sizeable anarchist currents in the youth. A central characteristic of anarchist ideas is that they supposedly fight against the existence of any kind of leadership. But there has never ever been a victorious revolution based solely on the spontaneity of the movements, however mighty this might be. The anarchists are not able to draw the conclusions from this and as a result propagate what can only lead to defeat, as the only road to victory. Anarchists in a number of countries are held back by a pessimistic outlook and widespread anti-socialist rhetoric in their publications. They are heavily influenced by past defeats rather than looking to future possibilities.
- In relation to consciousness, unfortunately most of the organisations of the anticapitalist Left do not see the picture in all its complications and contradictions. They tend to repeat ideas and slogans which only see the positive elements, the “revolts” and the “upheavals” but not the other sides of the equation. They tend to be overoptimistic – and this is seen by many activists who rightly criticize Trotskyists as “permanently seeing the revolution round the corner” and exaggerating every development in class struggle in order to artificially boost morale. A balanced approach in relation to perspectives and consciousness is absolutely key in order for Marxists to be successful in their revolutionary tasks.
Political instability and the far Right
- The contradictions of the system are inevitably reflected on the political level. Political instability has always been a characteristic of less developed economies. But in the recent period it is becoming a characteristic of the rich industrial countries as well. The “weakness” of the subjective factor leads in many instances to the emergence or strengthening of the far-right parties, many of which have sizeable open fascist groupings in their ranks. This does not mean that there are no opportunities towards the Left and for revolutionary ideas, quite the contrary, but this is not the main current in society in the present period, as was the case at the time of the 2007-8-9 crisis. The recent developments in the United States and Brazil are characteristic of these processes.
- Biden won the last presidential elections (November 2020) but Trumpism has shown that it has strong roots in US society and is trying to make a comeback. The midterm elections of 2022 represented a defeat for Trump in the sense that the Republicans failed to achieve the victory they were hoping for. A key reason for this was Trump’s and his reactionary followers’ positions on abortion – the Democrats were successful in managing to take advantage of this. As a result, the leadership of Trump in the GOP is being questioned, but time will show if there will be a serious challenge. However, the main opposition to Trump from inside GOP comes from the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, who shares the same far-right conservative agenda as Trump. In short, one of the two pillars of the US political system has shifted to far-right positions. For the first time in living memory there is now an open talk among even serious representatives of the establishment about the dangers to US democracy after Trump’s refusal to accept the election results and his failed “idiotic coup attempt” of January 6, 2021.
- In Brazil, Lula won the presidential elections of November 2022 but Bolsonaro received a staggering 49.1% of the vote. There were widespread fears that he might refuse to accept the results and attempt something similar to Trump’s abortive “coup” of January 6, 2021 to remain in power. The balance of forces did not allow him any such ventures, despite the fact that his followers tried to mobilize to this end. But the phenomenon of Bolsonarismo (in the same way as that of Trumpism) is far from ended: it emerged on the basis of the failed expectations and the demoralization and anger of the Brazilian masses under the three PT governments that ruled between 2003 and 2015. The PT, under Lula, is again taking office in January 2023, but this time on a more right-wing agenda than before, and in conditions of much more severe economic constraints and pressures. Lula will be preparing the ground for reaction, in one form or another, to hit back again.
- The far Right is on the rise in general, but the region where it is making the most gains is Europe. Recently we had the victory of Meloni’s alliance of arch-conservative right-wing parties in Italy and the rise of the far-right “Swedish Democrats” in Sweden to second party. These developments come after the emergence of powerful far Right parties in Spain and Portugal a few years earlier.
- Vox (meaning “Voice”) in Spain, hardly known after its creation in 2013, entered parliament in 2019 making a massive leap to the third political force in the country, receiving 3.6 million votes (and 52 deputies). Polls show that its support is on the rise. Chega (meaning “Enough”) in Portugal, was formed in 2019, it won one seat in the Portuguese Parliament in 2019 and increased its seats to 12, with a 7.18% swing in its favour in 2022.
- The above are the more recent phenomena. Apart from these, Hungary and Poland are ruled by right wing parties characterized by nationalism, racism, sexism and attacks on democratic rights. In addition, the far Right is strong in many other countries, particularly so in the twin pillars of the EU and the Eurozone: France, where Marine Lepen received 13.3 million votes, over 41% of the total, in France’s last presidential elections and Germany where the AfD is making gains (15% in the polls) in the present conjuncture with the ruling coalition of Social-democrats, Greens and Liberals (FDP) losing ground. Essentially the far Right is growing everywhere in Europe to a greater or lesser degree and even where it is not present as a major political force its agenda is largely employed by the establishment parties.
- The rise of the far Right in Europe was sparked off in the 1990s. The capitalist restoration in the Soviet Block sent millions of refugees into Western Europe and this was used by the far Right to grow. It also was followed by the emergence of openly fascist organisations in Eastern Europe. Since then, the far Right has been growing, with ups and downs of course. The recent developments indicate that the rise of the Far Right “cycle” in Europe is not yet over, on the contrary they are the main winners of the rise of popular anger particularly after the capitulation of the “New Left” (SYRIZA, Podemos, Left Block, Corbyn) in the second half of the 2010s.
- The picture in Latin America is rather different. Arch conservative or far right governments followed the failures of the “left” governments that swept Latin America in the 2000s and after, but this “far-right wave” did not last very long. Of course, it can return in the next period based on the fact that the center-left parties taking power in most LA countries won’t solve any of the fundamental problems caused by capitalist crisis.
- Key in Latin American developments was the victory of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 1998. This set off a process of radicalization throughout the whole continent, with the election of many left (reformist) governments. In 2003 Nestor Kirchner was elected as president of Argentina, and Lula da Silva, heading the “Workers’ Party” as president of Brazil – the two most important in many ways countries of L. America. In the course of the 2000s Latin America looked like the only region on the planet in which the Left was “returning”, and with quite radical characteristics. Developments in Venezuela were of particular importance. Chavez was moving constantly to the left, speaking of revolution and even stating to be a follower of Trotsky’s ideas (while at the same time a corrupted state and military elite were being built); nationalisations were taking place in countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, etc; and at the same time American imperialism was proving completely incapable of checking these developments on its doorstep (three attempts to get rid of Chavez by non-parliamentary means failed).
- The “good intentions” of all these reformist governments and their attempt to give capitalism a human face naturally failed, and this led to the return of right-wing governments of a hard neoliberal character, like Mauricio Macri in Argentina in 2015 (until 2019) or of a far-right character like Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil in 2018 (until January 2023). After the defeat of Bolsonaro by Lula in the second round of the Brazilian presidential elections of October 30, 2022, there is again what is described as a “pink wave” over the whole of Latin America. In other words, the failures of the parties that speak in the name of the Left did not lead to some kind of long-term defeats, or a long “cycle” of reaction. This is a reflection of the militant and revolutionary traditions of Latin America.
- Having said this we need to stress that the new “pink” governments of Latin America are far to the right and much softer than the left governments that came to power in the 2000s. Thus, the recent electoral victories are not the end of reaction but are only laying the ground for a return of it.
- The far Right can be blocked only if strong left parties with a radical anticapitalist, essentially revolutionary, character can be built. The rise of the far Right is inevitably causing a reaction towards the left. Given the huge deficiencies of the present-day parties of the Left, the process is very slow and as already explained very contradictory. But there are processes under development – the fact that the parties of the Left offer no attraction to the more radical elements in society allows an important space for the anticapitalist Left. The latter is weak but it is playing a role in quite a number of countries. The epicenter of developments in the anticapitalist Left is for the present time, Latin America, and particularly in Argentina where the FIT-U received 3 million votes in the last elections and Brazil where P-SOL received 4.5 million votes. There are, contradictions in both these formations, so the future will show to what extent they may provide the core for developments on a global scale. Internationalist Standpoint will work in a very positive spirit, despite any differences, with all forces aiming at building a mass revolutionary alternative on an international level.
Read the next part here