The crisis in the imperialist world order and the response of the proletariat

A contribution to the discussions at the Milan July 2023 conference of internationalist forces, by Internationalist Standpoint – May 31st, 2023. Read our report from the meeting here


Capitalism is faced with a deep, long term, multileveled, global, organic crisis: economic, social, political, geopolitical, environmental. There is no optimism among the strategists of capital not only for the present conjuncture or decade but for the whole historical epoch. Continuous attacks on living standards and rights; rising inequality, poverty and hunger; rise of authoritarian and far-right forces; anger, particularly among the youth, in relation to the environmental catastrophe and the suppression of women’s and lgbtqi+ rights; all of these are creating conditions for explosive class struggles.

Class struggle

The last few years have seen mighty movements in tens of countries. In a whole number of neo-colonial (“developing”) countries we saw eruptions with revolutionary characteristics. In the beginning of the 2010s we had revolutions in a number of Arab countries and huge waves of struggle in southern Europe. 2019 was a year in which the dimensions of social upheavals were probably greater than 1968. In the recent months we saw important strike waves in a whole number of European countries: Britain, France, Greece, Belgium, Germany, Portugal etc. Even China faced important mobilizations around the pandemic lockdowns.

The system is rotten and reactionary to the core but the subjective factor –i.e., the working class and its organisations, political and social– is not in a position to fulfil the task of overthrowing capitalism.

The parties of the Left, traditional or “new”, have capitulated to the ruling class. The anticapitalist Left, with very few exceptions is itself in deep crisis – it has failed to take advantage of the crisis of capitalism and, also, of the crisis of reformism.

As a result, the far right is rising, reaching levels unprecedented in the post WWII decades – it represents a grave danger for the future.

The contradiction between the objective situation and the subjective factor, leads to a protracted epoch of instability and social convulsions.


US and Western imperialism have entered an epoch of historical decline. China, Russia, BRICs and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation are growing and expanding, challenging US hegemony. Processes like the setting up a New Development Bank to challenge the IMF, of a new currency based on a basket of currencies, of agreements to trade on the basis of national currencies instead of the dollar, are under way.

These are long term processes, not to be expected to mature or be concluded in the course of the next few years. They will be creating massive instability and collisions in the capitalist system, on the one hand pushing class struggles forward and on the other presenting new dangers and challenges for the popular masses.

There will be no straight forward passage from a “US century” to a “China century”. The US will fight by all means to maintain its hegemony, but it is actually fighting against the “law of combined and uneven development”, i.e., against time. The US can, undoubtedly, delay China’s rise but it cannot freeze it indefinitely. There are contradictions between the US and the EU in relation to the approach on China, but the strong bonds between the two cannot be expected to break – similarly the bonds between China and Russia cannot be expected to break either.

Developments will move in the direction of two main but also other poles in the global system, in severe antagonism between them for domination and spheres of influence – unless interrupted by the socialist revolution. Each one of the two main blocks, around the US and around China, will have its own internal contradictions.

There is nothing positive in this from the point of view of the working class, and there is no basis for supporting any side in this inter-imperialist conflict. On the other hand, if and where possible, it is correct to take advantage of the inter-imperialist contradictions to advance working class interests. 

In previous epochs this contradiction would have been (partially) resolved through a world war, but this time this is not taking place (in the real meaning of “world war”) because all main belligerents are in possession of nuclear arms. So, apart from trade wars like the present one between China and the US, proxy wars can be expected to be more vicious and bloodier than in the recent past.

The new cold war, between the US and China,can be as fierce as the first cold war between the West and the Soviet Union, but it is of a different character – it has no ideological characteristics, it is a struggle between different capitalist/imperialist powers for domination, profit and spheres of influence. Despite China’s powerful state intervention and the decisive role of the CCP, the system as a whole works fundamentally for capitalist interests and not for the nationalized economy.

The War

The Ukraine war is a manifestation of the clash of interests between Western imperialism and Russia, China’s most important ally today.

There are other parameters in this war, as well. The invasion of Russia into Ukraine is clearly imperialist and, as such, it ought to be severely condemned – the demand for the Russian army to withdraw is imperative. But this does not mean a support to the Ukrainian ruling class or Zelensky – on the contrary revolutionary socialists should aim to convince the working class in both Russia and Ukraine to fight against their ruling class’s corrupt, reactionary, nationalist, anti-working-class regimes. There is also the 2014 war by the Ukrainian regime against the Russophone populations in Eastern Ukraine in the Donbass region claiming their right to self-determination – this is a demand that revolutionary Marxists must support.

All these elements do exist, but the central, dominant characteristic of the war is a clash between different imperialist forces. The West are supplying massively arms, intelligence, know how, training, experts, volunteers, etc., to the Ukrainian regime in order to defeat Putin. For this reason, it is wrong for Marxists to support one or other imperialist camp in this war. They should stand for the interests of the Russian workers against Putin and for the interests of the Ukrainian workers against Zelensky and NATO; for the exit of the Russian army from the occupied lands, and for the right of self-determination of the Russophone populations of the Donbass.


One thing is clear, the fundamental premises of Marxism have been brilliantly vindicated by history.

But this is obviously not enough for Marxism to become a mighty force on the planet, as was in previous historical conjunctures, particularly after the victory of the Russian revolution. The forces that speak in the name of Marxism today are faced with a deep crisis.

The past decade has seen serious splits or divisions in all the well-known Trotskyist organisations: the USFI, the CWI, the IMT, the IST, etc. The only area where some positive steps are taking place is Argentina but it remains to be seen if these will stand the test of time.

The anticapitalist Left has not been able to overcome the repercussions of the capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union in the 1990s. The implications are still with us.

The reasons for the failure of the revolutionary Left to build sizable forces internationally cannot be entirely explained by the objective situation. Rather, it is the inability of the anticapitalist Left to take advantage of the objective possibilities that opened up, which explains its crisis. Large sections of the anticapitalist Left are “suffering” from various illnesses: unbalanced perspectives; overoptimism or its opposite, pessimism; no proper contact with the working masses; no proper understanding of the transitional programme; opportunist deviations; sectarianism; and tragically also, messianism i.e., the perception that they are the only revolutionaries on the planet. There is a problem with the internal regime in many organizations: secondary differences can lead to huge polarization, different opinions are treated with huge hostility, internal “wars” take place over secondary differences, splits follow most debates over differences.

We think that in order for Marxists to be successful in their historical task, the lessons from the failures of the previous historical period must be drawn. Such, are:

  • The need to intervene in the changing situation and the rise in class struggles with the primary aim of building the revolutionary forces, coupled with efforts to build broader political and other formations which can help to advance class struggle and working-class interests.
  • The understanding that a future mass International will not be built on the basis of the ideas and methods of just one revolutionary current, but will represent an amalgamation of different revolutionary Marxist currents and organizations.
  • Those who aim at building a future massrevolutionaryInternational, should come together to discuss how this can come about. This effort needs to be based on a number of principles without demanding full agreement on all political issues.
  • Such principles are: a consistent defense of the method of the United Front, i.e., a clear anti-sectarian stand; a defense of the transitional programme and method; a clear rejection of entry into any kind of bourgeois government or of a “popular front” kind in the name of fighting the far right or for “tactical reasons”; a clear aim of orientating, intervening and building inside the working class and against the dominance of academics and intellectuals; a clear aim of building mass revolutionary forces, against the microcosm of small groups; last but not least, democratic discussion and debate must be uninhibited, open and comradely.

These principles can provide the basis for a coming together and for a fusion of different revolutionary currents and organisations and within this context different political positions can be handled in an open, public and comradely manner.

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