World Relations: A turbulent period in history
World Relations: A turbulent period in history
This document on World Relations passed by the National Committee meeting of the DSM is an edited and updated version of the CWI IEC document of December 2014
April 18-19, 2015
Eleven years ago, George Bush and the neocons who sustained his presidency saw their military ‘triumphs’ in Afghanistan and Iraq as laying the basis for establishing US imperialism as a ‘new Rome’. They calculated that this would allow them to impose a new phase of the ‘New World Order’ that started after the collapse of Stalinism through military might. We answered this in the analysis, resolutions and publications of the CWI. We also stressed that only an independent mass movement, led by the working class, was capable of having a lasting effect. Through the mobilisation of the poor masses, it was possible to create a mass movement to overthrow Saddam and the social system â€“ landlordism and capitalism â€“ upon which his regime rested. By the time of the last IEC, events in the Middle East and elsewhere had left the doctrines of the neocons in ruins and punctured the puffed-up arrogance of US imperialism. Now the situation appears even worse given the nightmare of spreading civil wars and especially the advance of Isis in Syria and Iraq.
All the more reason why in periods like we have recently passed throughâ€“ in Europe, at least, one of mild reaction and in the Middle East in the main of outright reaction â€“ any current analysis must continue to emphasise the fighting potential of the working class. This is despite the fact that perhaps we underestimated the extent to which former leading layers of the working class had been hit by the impact of Stalinism’s collapse and the subsequent wave of capitalist triumphalism. This had an effect on the protests and mass movements that initially developed after 2008. Sometimes it meant that partial movements or individuals could assume a temporary importance that, although not having a lasting character, would have a lasting effect. It is clear that the 2011-12 Occupy movement helped open the way for the 15Now movement in the US.
But this does not mean that there were no struggles or revolutions of a more traditional character like the magnificent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011 or the popular struggles seen in Turkey and Brazil. More recently, there have been the mass strikes on pay in Britain prior to the May 2015 general election, the partial general strikes in Italy, the movement leading up to the 15 December 2014general strike in Belgium and the mass rebellions on the national question in Scotland and in Catalonia.
In Ireland, the mass campaign against water charges has mobilised a hundred thousand-strong national demonstration and other protests across the country. We are playing a key role in this as well, and at the same time created a minor earthquake in the recent by-elections for the DÃ¡il (Irish parliament). The great victories of Ruth Coppinger and Paul Murphy, achieved against the odds, were triumphs for the Irish comrades and the CWI. In Paul’s case, our Irish section succeeded in defeating Sinn FÃ©in, who could be the leading force in the next Irish government following the general election expected in 2016. The Labour Party was also wounded, possibly fatally, and the sectarians, led by the SWP, marginalised.
Seattle also, was a milestone, indicating the possibilities of significant victories for a small organisation which can then lead to a revival of the workers’ movement. Ireland is another staging post in this process, which will be repeated in other countries and on other continents.
However, the Middle East conflict shows the other side. Like ink spreading on blotting paper, nationalist and sectarian clashes have spread remorselessly throughout the region. The Middle East and North Africa is not the only region affected. In fact, we now have an unprecedented world geopolitical crisis. The 2014 murderous one-sided war between Israel and the Palestinians with the mountains of dead and mutilated, including children, as well as the desperate homeless, has added to the legacy of hatred and bitterness, the consequences of which are not yet clear. We have witnessed the ongoing murderous Syrian conflict, with countless victims, and now the virtual disintegration of Iraq, which the Economist sees along with Syria as ‘disappearing’, cancelling out the Sykes-Picot line drawn arbitrarily almost a century ago by British and French imperialism. How many times did the CWI warn that the result of the Iraq war and the overthrow of Saddam would only lead to a number of ‘Saddams’, as the country fractures into ethnic and religious zones?
The total burden of world debt â€“ private and public â€“ has risen from 160% of national income in 2001 to almost 215% in 2013. In other words, contrary to widely held beliefs, the world has not begun to de-leverage and the global debt to GDP ratio is still growing, breaking new heights. One of the authors of the annual Geneva Report commissioned by the International Centre for Monetary and Banking Studies, Luigi Buttiglione the head of global strategy at hedge fund Brevan Howard, said: “Over my career I have seen many so-called miracle economies â€“ Italy in the 1960s, Japan, the Asian tigers, Ireland, Spain and now perhaps China â€“ and they all ended after a build-up of debt.” In an upswing, carefully controlled credit can lubricate the system, leading to a spiral of growth. But the massive borrowing, which took place during the upswing in the US and worldwide, continued during the crisis because of the fear of complete economic collapse and what this would mean for the political consciousness of the working class and their growing opposition to the system. The injection of credit has been astronomical. The US Federal Reserve bought $4.5 trillion of assets, the Bank of England, Å375 billion so far and the Japan Central Bank will have bought over $1.5 trillion of assets by April 2015.
But another section of the capitalists is now afraid that they will be trapped in a Bermuda Triangle of endless austerity. This threatens to provoke a new crisis and a revolt of the working class. There are no easy options on the table. However, the maintenance of high global debts, despite the efforts of different governments to reduce them, is provoking a new combination of spiralling debts and low growth that could trigger another financial crisis. In consequence, the bourgeoisie swings from optimism to deep pessimism. Since 2007, the ratio of total debt, excluding the financial sector, has jumped in China to 261% of GDP. Martin Wolf states: “One can debate whether this level is sustainable. One cannot debate whether such a rapid rate of rise is sustainable; it cannot possibly be so. The rise in debt has to halt with possibly significantly more adverse effects on China’s rate of growth than today’s consensus expects.”
The present situation indicates a frozen system symbolised by a ‘paradox of thrift’, mentioned by Keynes, with corporate ‘savings’ dramatically rising throughout the world, partly because bosses feel a greater need to protect themselves against the free market turmoil. There is also little opportunity for capitalist productive investment, which results in massive corporate cash hoards amounting to 44% of GDP in Japan, 34% of GDP in South Korea and similar piles in other parts of East Asia. The same inexorable pattern of rising cash hoards while wages stagnate or fall is evident elsewhere. So dangerous is the current situation that we are informed that the British and US central banks have conducted financial tests â€“ ‘war games’ â€“ about how they would handle another Lehman Brothers-style banking crisis! This reinforces the idea that further events along the lines of 2008 and worse are being seriously considered by the financial institutions with the aim of trying to put in place preventative measures to stop them happening, or if they cannot, what rescue measures the financial institutions of capitalism need to take. It seems that Japan and the euro area are most at risk but the whole of world capitalism threatens to be dragged down.
“In 1820 the world’s richest country-Britain-was about five times richer than the average poor nation. Now America is about 25 times wealthier than the average poor country. The Gini coefficient for between-country inequality stood at only 16 in 1820 (i.e., very low). It soared to 55 in 1950, and has been stable since. The driving force of inequality since 1820, in other words, has been industrialisation in the West.”
Why has the price of oil fallen so sharply? It arises from a combination of increased supply and reduced demand. The IMF (WEO Update, January 2015) estimates that 60% of the fall in price is due to increased supply and 40% due to reduced demand.
The increased supply mainly comes from the US and Canada, from the development of shale oil. This was made possible by new technology â€“ horizontal drilling and fracking techniques. Fracking (hydraulic fracturing) involves injecting water and chemicals at high pressure into underground rock strata to force out oil or gas. Many of the new techniques were developed by long-term R&D investment by the US Department of Energy (see: Behind the Drop in Oil Prices, the Hand of Washington, International New York Times, 22 January 2015). In response to the restriction of US oil supplies by states in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) in 1973 and 1979, the US saw the achievement of energy self-sufficiency as an imperative. The US and the big oil companies which adopted the new techniques have brushed aside objections to the environmental destruction caused by fracking and other destructive methods.
Massive investment in the development of shale oil brought a surge in production in the US and Canada. The exploitation of shale oil added three million barrels per day (3mpd) to US output since 2012. There has also been one million barrels per day increase from Canadian shale oil. By the end of 2014, US oil production was 80% higher than in 2008.
With the current fall in the price of oil, however, there is likely to be a sharp fall in investment in exploration and new drilling. This has already led to the closure of oilfields and to job losses in US states such as Texas, North and South Dakota, etc. Output from fields that have already been developed will continue for several years. After four or five years, however, the current slump in shale oil exploration and drilling, and declining output, will once again result in a rise in oil prices.
A few years ago, many commentators claimed that the ‘fracking revolution’ would propel a new boom in the US. For instance, Charles Morris published ‘Comeback: America’s New Economic Boom’ (2013). But it has done little more than support a weak, uneven ‘recovery’. Conjunctural trends, moreover, do not last forever. Now, for at least a period, shale oil exploration has reached its limits. There is a mismatch between the investment cycle in oil and gas production, on the one hand, and the investment cycle in the wider economy, on the other, a contradiction that will never be overcome in an anarchic capitalist economy.
The surge in oil output coincided with a sharp fall in demand. This is mainly due to a slowdown of major oil importers, notably China, as well as so-called ’emerging markets’ (semi-developed economies). This year, for instance, the IMF expects China to grow less than 7% â€“ compared with 10% to 12% per annum several years ago. Near-zero growth in Japan, the EU and elsewhere has also reduced demand for oil. (In contrast, cheaper oil has boosted growth in India, a major oil importer. GDP growth is expected to be over 6% this year compared to 5% in 2013.)
This conjunction of higher oil production and reduced demand has led to a glut in the international oil market â€“ at 1.5mbd to 2mbd.
Moreover, reduced oil and gas prices (which through transport, storage, etc., affect a wide range of prices, especially food) have reinforced the trend towards disinflation (a general slowing of price rises) and deflation (a tendency of prices to fall). This trend, which major central banks are attempting, unsuccessfully, to reverse, depresses investment and consumer demand. The fact that the Federal Reserve has yet again postponed an interest rate rise shows that the US authorities are far from confident that the US recovery has achieved a self-sustaining momentum.
There is still volatility in global financial markets, and quantitative easing in particular has created property and asset bubbles in the US, Britain and elsewhere. Now the adoption of QE measures by the European Central Bank, which will have a minimal effect in stimulating growth, will once again bring the possibility of financial bubbles. The plunge in the oil price is clearly a mixed blessing for the capitalists internationally. This is recognised by the WEO Update (January 2015): “Sizeable uncertainty about the oil price path in the future and the underlying drivers of the price decline has added a new risk dimension to the global growth outlook”.
This has big political implications, both for the mood and consciousness of the US and world working classes, for the present as well as the future. It is not ‘fine’ for the rich to pile up wealth, even during ‘boom times’. The big anti-capitalist demonstrations around the turn of the century began in Seattle in 1999 before the shine had fully come off capitalism. But it is true that the great mass of the population can often ‘tolerate’ a situation, so long as the system is ‘delivering’ the basics for the majority. That is clearly not happening now. Hence the 2013 victory of Kshama in Seattle, which heralds similar political upheavals throughout the US.
The 2014 mid-term elections showed the continuing potential with Socialist Alternative’s Jess Spears winning over 8,500 votes, 17.6%, standing for the Washington State legislature. While in New York State Howie Hawkins, a socialist standing as the Green party candidate, won over 173,600 votes, 4.9%, nearly triple the 60,000 he won in 2010. Similar developments are taking place elsewhere but it is not yet clear whether the campaign will succeed in persuading sufficient numbers to stand and thereby offer the US masses a real alternative nationally and locally. However, one thing is clear: the ground has already been prepared for the creation of a sizeable left radical or socialist alternative in the next period. This would probably take the form of an alliance in the first instance, leading later to the beginning of a mass party. Such a development, given the position of the US internationally, would have huge significance and stimulate a similar process in countries which also do not yet have a mass workers’ party.
Moreover, as the world’s policeman, US capitalism tends to build into its foundations all the explosive factors of world capitalism. At this conjuncture, a number of factors are combining to create a ‘perfect storm’ for US imperialism. Events in the Middle East, with the rise of Isis, have compelled Obama, who was elected on the pledge to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, to do a somersault. He is the fourth president â€“ Bush senior and junior, Clinton and now Obama â€“ who have been compelled to preside over a Middle Eastern military intervention, although restricted at this stage to a bombing campaign.
This meshes with the underlying economic crisis, and a growing social crisis, particularly as it affects people of colour. Obama is the president who has expelled from the US more immigrants than all previous presidents put together! Then came the explosive events in Ferguson with the callous murder of Michael Brown by a heavily militarised police force. A similar murder took place in October, which reignited incendiary events in the town. The CWI supporters in the US intervened very successfully, including African-American and other members of Socialist Alternative. Moreover, this is just one field in which the discontent of people of colour is manifested. They expected big changes and invested great hopes in the first black president to be elected in the US. Yet African-Americans have fallen further behind economically more than in any other presidency since the Great Depression. One black American pastor asked in 2013: “Why are we so loyal to a president who is not loyal to us?” The median non-white family in the US today has a net worth of just $18,100 â€“ almost a fifth lower than it was when Obama took office. White median wealth, on the other hand, has risen by 1% to $142,000. In 2009, white households were seven times richer than their black counterparts; that is now eightfold. In other words, in relative and absolute terms, blacks are doing worse under Obama. Of course, there are many poor white families too.
Yet the paradox is that in the mid-term elections, those sections of the black population who voted supported Obama. Of course, this is a manifestation of ‘lesser evilism’, a conscious understanding on the part of the black population, and of people of colour in general, that Obama is a disappointment, but Republican victories, and possibly a Republican president in 2016, will be much worse. This is not a permanent state of mind. This section of the population, which is amongst the poorest in the US, will rally to a new mass party, just as fervently if not more so than other layers of the population. A test of a revolutionary organisation is whether it can find a road to the most oppressed, downtrodden layers of the population. In the US, Socialist Alternative has already rallied to its banner a significant section of blacks, Hispanics and other people of colour who can play a decisive role in the development of a committed, revolutionary organisation.
Our US comrades pointed out that before the election, “one poll showed 70% supporting the idea of throwing out all incumbents”. In the vote itself, the Republican gains stand “in sharp contrast to the shift to the left in U.S. society”, as in these elections “ballot initiatives to increase the minimum wage passed in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, the latter two reliably Republican states. In San Francisco, voters passed a referendum for a $15 minimum wage by an overwhelming 77% margin. This means that the potential for struggle has not been reduced by these elections; in fact the likelihood has increased as working people and youth respond to Republican attacks and see that change depends on what they themselves do.
The US will be an epicentre of the struggle and the convulsions there will therefore be greater, with colossal ramifications for the class struggle and therefore for opportunities for the growth of powerful socialist parties.
Economically Europe remains mired in depression, which threatens to worsen in the next period. We have characterised the political situation throughout the continent as one of ‘mild reaction’. However, this is beginning to change, as indicated at the beginning of this document, with the big movements of different characters in Scotland, Ireland and a big collision industrially in Belgium (where the end of 2014 saw a mass workers’ demonstration, three regional and one national general strikes), strikes and protests in Italy and elsewhere. But similar explosions are possible anywhere, given the underlying tense social and political situation.
This was shown by the violent clashes in Italy at the meeting of the European Central Bank, convened in Naples, one of the poorest areas of Italy, which is experiencing its third recession since 2008. Unemployment in the eurozone stands at 11.5% with an estimated 18.3 million of those looking for work in the euro area still without it. Italy saw unemployment amongst young people rising to a fresh high of 44.2% of those aged between 15 and 24. There is undoubtedly an explosive mood in Italy â€“ as in southern Europe generally â€“ which can spill over into big movements on the streets.
Consequently, capitalist-imperialist antagonisms within Europe have intensified, as they have on a world scale between the different power blocs. This manifests itself in the growing antagonism between those like France, Spain, Italy, etc. â€“ who wish for a loosening of the euro’s monetary constraints â€“ and German capitalism and the core countries around it. The calculation is that if the budgetary constraints were loosened to more than 3% of GDP this would generate ‘demand’ and, together with other measures such as a continuation of a form of quantitative easing, would show a way out, at least temporarily. The European financial authorities calculate that this would have a chance of avoiding the dreaded deflation if the ECB stepped in to purchase private sector assets on a sufficient scale â€“ involving expenditure up to â‚¬1 trillion, including Greek and Cypriot ‘junk bonds’. Yet all the ingredients still remain for the collapse of the euro, despite reassurances that, unlike in 2012, the ‘danger’ has passed. It hasn’t!
On a European level the problems are intractable under the present financial settlement and are accumulating. Such are the disparities now between ‘Northern’ Europe and the South, it will become increasingly difficult for the governments of the latter to maintain the euro, which is a pernicious form of internal devaluation. It is likely that some kind of break will be initiated by Southern Europe, but it cannot be excluded that Germany or some other North European country, or even Italy or France will take the initiative to break from the euro, which will be followed by others.
What is true on a continental level is doubly so in relation to individual countries that make up the EU. It is only possible here to give a thumbnail sketch of the main economic and political features in some of these.
The most important new development in the second half of 2014 was the appearance of a sudden worsening of the economic position of Germany, because it is still the powerhouse of Europe and therefore has a continental effect. Its economy is becoming unstable and can suffer sharp, sudden changes. Industrial production fell 3.1% in August and 0.3% in September. Overall, Germany’s economy dropped by 0.1% in the second quarter and then grew by 0.1% in the third of 2014. Currently the economic indications are unstable, rising some months and then falling, but a drop into recession is possible. In the teeth of the world recession, Germany was able to sustain its position at the expense of the rest of Europe. With barely contained glee, the Financial Times states that Germany’s “growth model has helped to drain demand from the rest of the Eurozone, unnecessarily denied German workers and households a higher standard of living and left it vulnerable to external shocks.” By this they meant that it was too reliant on exports, which are now severely affected by the world recession.
In Spain, the ‘regime of 1978’, as it is known on the left, resulting from the ‘transition’ from military backed dictatorship to democracy, is in decomposition. This is against the backdrop of the continuing economic crisis, with debt set to top 100% of GDP for the first time in decades, and â‚¬100 million per day going on interest rates alone! Spanish capitalism faces deep crises on every front, as evidenced by the collapse of the two-party system, the territorial crisis relating to Catalonia, the panicked abdication of the king and the explosive rise of Podemos.
The national question is part of the bedrock of Spanish capitalism, which continues to show itself incapable of resolving it. The banning of the Catalan government’s proposed referendum on independence by the Constitutional Tribunal, at the behest of the Rajoy government, brutally exposed the anti-democratic nature of the regime. We support the right to self-determination, but for Spanish capitalism the independence of Catalonia, whose economy represents 20% of Spanish GDP, would be a disaster.
Opinion polls repeatedly put Podemos in first or second place with over 20%, threatening the survival of the Spanish two-party system, based on the right-wing PP and ex-social democratic PSOE, who fail to muster up 50% support between them. Over 100,000 people filled the streets of Madrid in Podemos’ “march for change”, in an impressive display of strength on 31 January.
In a similar way to Syriza, Podemos has been identified in the minds of millions as a potential tool to end Spain’s austerity nightmare and reclaim a dignified life, following 6 years of degradation. Spanish capitalism’s crisis has put the whole regime â€“ known as the “regime of 1978” – ushered in following the fall of Franco into question, reflected not just in the collapse of the traditional parties, but also in the Spanish state’s national and territorial crisis, especially in relation to Catalonia. The rise of Podemos reflects this tendency towards fundamental change. But can it deliver?
Indeed, in many ways Podemos’ success is a product of the failure of the traditional organisations of the Left and the workers’ movement. The leaderships of these organisations â€“ especially the United Left (IU) and the main trade unions â€“ failed to recognise that the crisis had ushered in a new period of intense class struggle and radical change. They continued with the age-old failed policies of collaboration and deals with the system and the bosses’ parties. This was especially shown by the United Left leaders’ disastrous policy of entering coalition governments with PSOE, thus tying the organization to the implementation of â€“albeit, in a “lighter” form â€“ austerity.
The same leaders also refused to open up their organizations by promoting a more meaningful unity of struggles, and respond to the massive mood in favour of more rank-and-file democratic control and participation which has characterized all of the most important movements and struggles of the last years. This strengthened the impression of wider layers that the traditional workers’ organizations were ossified political structures and strengthened the appeal of Podemos’ so-called “new way of doing politics”.
In short, the control of the right-wing bureaucracy over the IU and trade unions, and their continuation with the failed policies of class collaboration following the onset of the crisis produced a situation in which the active and radicalised sections of the working class were to the Left, more radical, than their so called leaders and organizations. As Alberto Garzon, new lead candidate of IU for the year’s general elections â€“ from the Left of the party â€“ has put it: “We could say that society changed faster than our own organisation did internally”. This is fundamental both to the current deep crisis of IU and the unions, and to the success of Podemos.
However, despite its superficial appearancethe organization structure of Podemos is clearly undemocratic, especially in terms of rank and rank control over the leadership. Podemos’ leadership, wanting to look different from traditional organization of the left and workers, has claimed that the people are the party. The question is: who are the people, the elite class that have plunged Spain into its current dire situation or the working and poor masses suffering the effect of Troika-organized austerity and attacks? Secondly, the party has no organized political structures in communities and workplaces, but relies on online voting of party leaders by its over 300, 000 members, who joined online. While this may sound democratic, it is actually undemocratic. It means once the leadership is elected, it can run the party the way it wants, without democratic debates at community and rank and file levels. Of course the party claim to have party structures and circles across the country, this seems more like symbolic structures as they are not really mass structures and circles. This is impacting on the direction of the leadership, which is tilting more to the right. For instance, the party is toning down some of its programmes, while its leaders claimed the party is social democratic in form, even when they initially raise the question of nationalization of key sectors of the economy. the leaders have also claimed their plans are similar to that of Lula in Brazil.
CWI comrades have a key role to play in engaging with the rank-and-file activists of supporters of both Podemos and the IU, arguing for a united front from below based on the active mobilisation of the working class, and revolutionary socialist policies. Though in great danger, the IU as a force is not yet dead by any means, and could still play a decisive role in events, if its growing critical sectors â€“ in which we play a role â€“ manage to win the leadership and redirect its course.
Despite herculean resistance by the Greek working class to Troika-imposed austerity measures since 2010, including over 30 general strikes, savage cuts were successfully carried out by successive Greek governments. But working and poor people, after five years of industrial and political struggles, have been able to usher into power a left Syriza government. A party, Syriza, that grew as a coalition of left organizations around six years ago, in the wake of the economic maelstrom, has emerged as a governing party in Greece. This clearly shows how a working class oriented party can gain decisively and become major pole of attraction for the working and poor people, both during crisis and prosperity.
Syriza’s first days in government have brought back, at last, smiles, optimism and pride to millions of workers in Greece. The new government’s public commitments and the first steps for the restoration of minimum wage to â‚¬750; the abolition of anti-working class legislation; the reinstatement of collective bargaining; the reinstatement of the Christmas bonus for low pension receivers; the ending of foreclosures; the re-employment of the ERT (public TV broadcast that was shut down by the previous government) workers; the ending of privatizations; the re-employment of unlawfully and unconstitutionally sacked public sector workers; the abolition of the so-called “evaluation” of public sector workers (by which 15% have to by necessity be described as “inefficient” and are thus liable to layoff); the abolition of hospital charges (5 euro per visit to any hospital) the restoration of Sunday as a free day, etc., are not small issues. For a society that has been through the destructive whirlwind of the pro-Troikian governments, these announced reforms mark a big change.
But some appear determined to wipe out the smile from the face of the Greek workers. The decisions of the European Central Bank, on 4 February, and the stance of the German government, as it was made clear by SchÃ¤uble at his meeting with the Greek Finance Minister, Y. Varoufakis, on 5 February, made things absolutely clear: they are not willing to make any serious concessions to the Greek government in its effort to ensure the most elementary rights for the Greek working class and the poor.
What the Greek government is, in reality, asking from the so-called European “partners” is very “small” in relation to its initial declarations but also not huge in economic terms. The government’s effort is focused on ensuring, by extending the payment of the Greek debt and reducing debt rates, that the primary surplus annually will not be at 4+%, but at 1-1.5% of the Gross Domestic Product. Given that 1-1.5% is an issue of “negotiation”, it means that a deal could end up at around 2-2.5% instead of 4+%. This translates to just a few billion euro (three to four) on an annual basis. This is a small amount, in reality. But it would allow the government to relieve, a little bit, the burden of poverty and despair on the backs of millions of Greek workers, unemployed and poor. But to even this small concession, the Brussels’ directory says “no”.
The Syriza-led government has made too many concessions already in its effort to strike a deal with the so called “partners” in the EU. It left aside the issue of reduction of the debt (“cancellation” or “writing off of the biggest part”) as well as the issue of an “all-European conference for the debt” and any reference to the historic precedent of the reduction of the German debt after WW2. Syriza abandoned the issue of re-nationalizing privatised public enterprises. YianisVaroufakis went as far as to claim that all investments are welcomed, such as the Cosco (a Chinese company) buying Piraeus port because they “modernize the economy” and “increase competition”. Varoufakis also made clear that all of the Greek debt will be paid off and “indeed with interest”. Ministers Dragasakis and Sakellaridis made clear that the government will not touch the administrations of the major banking conglomerates (even though the banks, in terms of ownership belong to the state, since it owns the majority of the shares, while the administrations are in hands of the old private owners).
Despite all these concessions by Syriza, the ECB and the German ruling class said “no”. This clearly underscores what the CWI and our comrades in Xekinima have constantly said that it will be delusional for Syriza leadership to think it can make a fundamental headway in the interests of the working and poor masses of Greece by conceding to the dictates of the Troika. While it can make manouvre for some time to gain one or two concessions, the European capitalist class will ensure that the working people of Greece do not enjoin the gain of a left government, by blackmailing the government and forcing it to a dead-end. The aim of this is to show to the working people of Europe that they have no other choice than regime of austerity and capitalism.
This is why our organizations have always call on working people of Greece to organize mass platform to put pressure on Syriza government to fundamentally launch an offensive against capitalism in Greece and Europe if the European capitalism decides to force the government to capitulation through blackmail. The demand for the nationalization of banks and financial sector, government’s embargo on hoarding of liquid assets and bankrupting of the economy are necessary programmes for Syriza government to undertake if it must survive the onslaught of European capitalism. The ‘Erratic Marxism’ of Varoufakis, the finance minister, which basically wants to save European capitalism through minimal social democracy, cannot even safe Greece. Only mass movements from workplaces, factories, communities and nationally, of working and poor people can force the Syriza government to genuine course.
In Britain over the last period, the situation has been dominated on the one side by the independence referendum in Scotland and by the upcoming May 2015 general election.
As we commented soon after the referendum, if ever the national question reflected ‘the outer shell of an immature Bolshevism’, it was revealed in this event. There was a class polarisation with the great majority of workers, particularly in the proletarian centres of Glasgow, Dundee and elsewhere solidly supporting a ‘Yes’ vote while, equally, the middle-class, following the scare campaign ‘Project Fear’ in the weeks before the referendum, turned out heavily to support ‘No’. The conclusion of the ‘establishment’, including initially the outgoing leader of the SNP Alex Salmond, was that the issue of Scottish independence was “over for a generation”. In fact, the ‘winners’ now appear to be the ‘losers’, while the ‘losers’ appear as the real ‘winners’.
The bitter disappointment of those who voted ‘Yes’ â€“ particularly the working class and the youth â€“ did not result in the abandonment of politics, but exactly the opposite. In droves, they are looking for answers and have joined parties, including our party in Scotland, the Socialist Party Scotland. The SNP, which is reported to have doubled and tripled its membership, has been the first port of call but it will not be the last. In a rising wave, all boats rise. At the same time, this has produced some weird and wonderful phenomena, including breathtaking ‘changes of political outlook’.
The turmoil of the Scottish referendum indicated the real mood that exists just below the surface in Britain. The growing poverty, ‘worse than under Thatcher’, reflected in food banks, which now exist in ‘well-off’ areas as well as the poor ones, a permanent army of unemployed and the scapegoating vilification of those on benefits, means that there is furious class indignation, which could not find an outlet through normal ‘politics’. However, it was expressed in the referendum, particularly by the ‘Yes’ voters and activists who saw this as a means of striking a decisive blow against the Tories and capitalism. It is just one indication of what could happen in the charged atmosphere following the general election in May.
There are very few illusions remaining in Miliband and his party. Even before the election, there is extreme skepticism and even hostility. Normally the trade union leaders in a pre-election period try to muzzle union opposition because they calculate, quite wrongly, that this would harm Labour’s electoral prospects. However, they were compelled by mass pressure to organise strikes and, in October, a national demonstration of 100,000 in favour of a pay rise for the scandalously underpaid British workers.
The trade union leadership provides just one reason for voting Labour: it provides the chance to end the ConDem era. The cowardly right-wing trade union leaders are incapable of marshalling any real arguments for supporting New Labour, other than they are different on some small issues At this moment, just weeks before the election, the outcome is unclear, Labour have made a few hints of limited change, while the Conservatives have been forced to switch from crudely attacking the Labour Party to making expensive promises while playing down the cuts programme they plan for after the election.This promises to be a vital period for our party in England and Wales. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) can come into its own in a serious way in the next period. Over a hundred candidates, at a cost of Å50,000 just in election deposits, will stand in the general election and hundreds more in the simultaneous local elections under the banner of TUSC. While this campaign, including theelection broadcast, is helpingput TUSC on the political mapthe actual results for TUSC are likely to be small. But the reason for TUSC standing is to put a marker down for the future debates on the need for the workers’ movement to have genuine political representation. Sucha debate will rapidly develop if Labour loses, while if Labour forms the next government the question will, after a honeymoon period, inevitably come up as that government will come into conflict with workers as a result of its inevitably pro-capitalist polices.
The May 2014 general election saw the African National Congress (ANC) returned to power as expected. But despite a 62% vote share, their real support amongst the voting age population was just 35%, their 11.4 million votes dwarfed by the 14.3 million who did not vote. Only 36% of the ANC’s vote came from the ‘metros’ â€“ the big cities and industrial areas. The ANC is fast becoming a rural party as significant sections of the working class and middle class break from them. The ANC’s poor election result has accelerated their internal crisis and there is open speculation on whether Zuma will see out his term as president. The scandal caused by the lavish state-financed ‘security upgrades’ to Zuma’s personal residence at Nkandla is a running sore turning into an open wound.
However, the most significant aspect of the 2014 elections was the emergence to the left of the ANC of the left-populist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) from the disbanded ANC Youth League. They won over one million votes, translating into 25 MPs, on a programme of partial nationalisation and radical land redistribution, and have caused major disruption to the cosy etiquette that existed amongst the bourgeois parties represented in parliament. However, cracks are already appearing within the EFF’s ranks over the lack of democracy and the exclusion and purging of those critical of the leadership.
The other significant development is the expulsion from COSATU of National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) in September, 2014. NUMSA leadership is seen as a fighting union, which is rocking the boat of the tripartite alliance of ANC, COSATU and the misnamed Communist Party. The leadership of the COSATU, fearful of the effect of NUMSA’s leftward shift, coupled with the criminal role of COSATU in the Marikana massacre, was forced to openl;y fight NUMSA. However, this has further rupture the fragile house of COSATU, as nine other unions have withdrawn from participation in the COSATU activities.
The peak of this crisis is the expulsion in March, 2015 of Zwelinzima Vavi, the general secretary of COSATU, who has been critical of ANC policies.
Since November’s expulsion of NUMSA, Vavi and the leaders of PAWUSA, Denosa, FAWU, SASAWU, CWU, SAFPU and SACCAWU had been boycotted Cosatu meetings in solidarity with NUMSA. The end of March expulsion of Vavi from Cosatu clearly poses urgently the question of a new trade union federation. However this is not just a question of organisation but also, as our comrades in WASP argued “burning question now is the political orientation and character of any new federation. Any new trade union centre must base itself on democratic and worker-controlled unions as was originally intended by the founders of Cosatu in 1985. The corrosive corruption of the past twenty years must be cleansed from the movement. A crucial lesson to learn from the demise of Cosatu is to recognise the price of class collaboration. Whilst Vavi has singled out corruption as the main cause of Cosatu’s demise, in reality, this is just a symptom, the inevitable consequence of class collaboration. The new federation must restore Cosatu’s original socialist ideals and base the struggles that lie ahead on these.” (see ‘Vavi’s expulsion opens new chapter in working class struggle’)
Socialists fight for the maximum unity of the working class. However, at certain points in history, a split, such as that which is now entrenched in Cosatu, has the potential to be progressive if it holds out the possibility of increasing the fighting power of the working class.
On 2 April, the Somali based al-Qaeda affiliate, al-Shabaab, carried out a horrific massacre of 148 university students in Garissa, Kenya. The 15 hours of carnage saw Muslim students separated from Christian, with the latter lined-up and executed. Later, parents trying to identify their murdered children found it almost impossible to recognise them due to the facial disfigurements caused by close-range head-shots.
Al-Shabaab is a barbaric reactionary organisation. Like the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the global terrorist network Al-Qaeda, and now the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Middle East, al-Shabaab is a creation of US imperialism. To defeat its rivals and cut across the development of mass working class struggle, US imperialism has leant on the most reactionary forces the world over for decades. It has nurtured and encouraged monsters that have now broken loose, not only terrorising the working class and poor but threatening the strategic interests of US imperialism itself.
The Garissa attack is the most extreme in a steady escalation of attacks in East Africa. In 2010 in Kampala, Uganda, 76 people were blown-up by al-Shabaab whilst watching the World Cup. In September 2013, 67 were murdered in the Westgate shopping centre massacre in Nairobi, Kenya. Between 2013 and now, over 400 Kenyans have been murdered by al-Shabaab in a series of smaller-scale terrorist attacks.
The Garissa attack reflects the economic and political crises engendered by capitalism and imperialism. The Al Shabaab terrorist group is a product of the anarchy that has defined Somalia for more than two decades. The anarchy itself is caused by imperialist manipulation of Somalia affair since the Cold War era. After the former Stailinist USSR dropped its support for the Barre regime in Somalia in favour of the Ethiopia in the late 1970s US imperialism stepped in and used Somalia as an outpost to fight USSR interests in the Horn of Africa 1991 saw the fall of the pro-US government of Siad Barre in a deadly civil war, leading to the emergence of the government of warlords, who exploited the poor people of Somalia. The warlords were replaced by Islamic Court Unions (ICU), which Al Shabaab is an armed wing, which tried to restore some stability into the society. But the US, in its War against Terrorism in the early 2000s, was not comfortable with Al Shabaab membership of ICU and thus brought down the ICU government in Mogadishu, replacing it with Transitional Federal Government (TFG) enthroned by Ethiopian army. The war weary Ethiopian army withdrew in 2009, only to be replaced by Kenyan army, which wanted to secure the Jubaland as a buffer zone of Kenya. This act of military assertiveness, which derived from much touted economic growth, is a gross miscalculation for Kenyan capitalist government, which has never gone to war in the past decades of its existence. Today, Kenya and other countries in the eastern region have been drawn into retaliatory terror acts of the al Shabaab group.
The working class are paying the price has the important tourism sector has dwindled leading to job losses in the hospitalist and tourism industries. Uhuru Kenyatta, known for his ethno-divisive politics â€“ he was just recently acquitted of genocide in the 2007 election violence that killed over 1300 people â€“ and elite lifestyle, has ordered full scale onslaught on al Shabaab. This has led to scapegoating of minority Muslim communities, who are being put under surveillance and profiling. Therefore, as much as working people of Kenya, and indeed Africa must oppose terror acts of al Shabaab, they must also oppose imperialism which generated the crisis in the first place. Building mass organizations against attacks on democratic rights, and for community defence, as part of the holistic programme of defeat of capitalism and imperialism should be the campaign of working class movement in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa.
Nigeria’s economic, social and political situations have shown the dire choices before the working and poor people of the country. The fall in the oil price is revealing the very narrow base of Nigerian economic growth. Nigerian manufacturing industry â€“ far from developing â€“ is a shrinking section of the economy. Only 3% of GDP growth came from manufacturing in 2007, compared with 10% in 1983. Today, as a result of this primitive nature of the economy, the revenue base of the country has greatly dwindled, leading to most states not being able to pay salaries. The conditions of workers in Benue, Osun and some others are even direr, as workers and pensioners are owed as much as over 6 months of salary arrears. Social services like education, health care, etc., that are already in decrepit state promise to be worse, even with a new government of the APC.
The elections in March and April that saw the opposition (now ruling) APC winning presidential election, as well as taking majority in state government houses, and houses of assembly, do not represent a break from the past, in terms of the policy orientation and politics of the ruling class. Already, the APC spokespersons and policy formulators are already outlining the capitalist policy orientation of the APC government. Among other things, the government wants to remove subsidy on fuel, prune public service by implementing the horrible Oronsaye Committee recommendations which will lead to mass retrenchment and demotion of workers, etc. No mention of full implementation of minimum wage has been made, neither are any mention of future increase in wage. Government also want to use Lagos tax policy, which is exploitative and fraudulent (handing over tax collection to private profiteers), as template for the federal government. government will not only sustain the fraudulent privatization of PHCN but will also privatize and balkanize Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), while according to Dr. Fayemi, the employment policy will be driven by the private sector. This kind of government cannot fundamentally improve the lives of the people.
Working and poor people, and youth, including students need to rebuild their organizations, in preparation for struggles that will break out in the coming period. The crisis within the NLC leadership as a fall out of the NLC elections reflects the rot that has eaten deep into the labour movement.
The role of DSM, and its work in the SPN and labour movement and student movement will be crucial in the coming period.
MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA
The crisis involving Isis is at the heart of the wider conflict in the Middle East and is, in a sense, a continuation of the previous period of the Iraq war, its outcome and its consequences, both in the region and its wider geopolitical effect. Isis is a continuation of Al Qaeda, but is more effective in terms of money-raising, the establishment at least in outline of a ‘state’, more multifaceted and therefore a threat to all the regimes in the Middle East, as well as to the imperialist West through ‘blowback’ from this conflict. We should recall that we predicted this situation 13 years ago in our analysis of the rise of right-wing political Islam and the crazy perspective of a new caliphate, the sectarian philosophy of al-Qa’ida, etc. In broad outline we also anticipated the outcome of the Iraq war and its unintended consequences: the complete discrediting of the authors of that war, notably Bush and Blair. More recently, at our 2013 IEC meeting, we envisaged the Assad regime, although severely weakened and despite hundreds of thousands of victims and refugees, would not be overthrown quickly. This was because the opposition to Assad was largely sectarian in character, resting on the Sunni population, which allowed the Syrian regime to mobilise in opposition not just Shia but other minorities who correctly feared persecution if the opposition won.
But at the same time, we predicted that the conflict would continue, which in turn was likely to establish an arc of sectarianism from Pakistan through to the Middle East itself and with wide repercussions for Muslims everywhere, including in the most industrialised countries. The consequences of this would be a big increase in potential jihadists going from the advanced industrial countries to Syria, Iraq, etc. They could then come back â€“ as fanatical jihadist suicide bombers â€“ with the potential to cause great damage, not least on the unity of the working class. Britain now has, according to the government, more than a thousand citizens, and there are greater numbers as a proportion from other European countries, who have travelled to the region to be indoctrinated in the messianic, destructive ideas of Isis.
Isis has been built from some of the remnants of al-Qa’ida as well as sections of the Baathists, including top Iraqi army officers excluded from the Iraqi army by the US occupiers, and by the largely Shia-dominated government of the former prime minister Maliki. Other young people were attracted from abroad, from amongst those, many from a Muslim background, who feel increasingly excluded and discriminated against. In total, it was estimated earlier this year that about 15 to 20,000 foreign jihadists are in its ranks. But Isis is not universally popular. A well-known leader of al-Qa’ida and a disciple of bin Laden condemned the methods of this organisation “as a killing and destruction machine”. He described its fighters as “the dogs of hellfire”. Saudi Arabia, while some of its citizens and possibly the government also continue to finance Isis, recently described it officially as “infidels”.
However, Isis is different in a crucial respect to Al Qaeda. The latter was ‘asymmetrical’ in character â€“ not territorially based â€“ and more of a faceless ‘corporate franchise’. It also attacked the ‘far enemy’, the imperialist countries themselves. Isis is more territorially based, calls itself a state and is primarily concerned with fighting the ‘near enemy’ in the region. Moreover, after the capture of Mosul in June with its oil wells, it now has considerable financial clout. And, crucially, Isis has military hardware, acquired during its successful military incursion into Iraq, which has taken its forces to the outskirts of Baghdad. However, its attempt to work with the local leaders of tribes cannot continue indefinitely. The recent shooting of members of tribes in Anbar province indicate the tensions that will develop.
Practically, Isis has become a growing factor in the politics and political development of the Middle East. And events are becoming more interwoven than ever. The latest civil war in Yemen, which has drawn in many Sunni-dominated governments in the region has become another sour point in the geopolitics of the Middle East. The Houthi rebels, who have been successful in ousting Hadi government, possibly with the support of previously ousted Ali Abdullah Saleh, are facing not just Al Qaeda in the Arabic Peninsula (AQAP) and Isis, but also forces of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, etc. who are hell bent in restoring Hadi to power. The bombs of Saudi air force have not only killed Houthi rebels but also civilians and refugees who have already living in abject poverty. More than 50 percent of the population is technically malnourished while poverty is as high as 90 percent of the population. Yet, US and European imperialisms are supporting Saudi forces.
Behind Saudi’s intervention is an attempt to stop the influence of Iran in the Middle East. Already, the US imperialism, against opposition of Saudi and Israel is concluding agreement with Iran on nuclear programme. Also, Iran now has support of the Iraqi government, in an attempt to wade of ethno-religious forces that tend to tear the government and the society apart. US has also been forced to use Iran’s support in Syria, in order to defeat Isis, itself a creation of western imperialism plundering and deadly politics in the Middle East. The rise of Houthi, and the ouster of Hadi, the former vice president of Saleh, who rode to power as president in an undemocratic election, after the ouster of Saleh in a revolution, is another source of worry for the Saudi regime. Houthi is a Shiite organization, which enjoys the support of Iran.
The US Secretary of State, John Kerry has accused Iran of supporting Houthi and thus destabilizing the the region. But it is the deadly politics of US imperialism that has put the whole Middle East in a seeming perpetual crisis.
Obama has already sketched out the prospect of the conflict spreading over ‘years’. Moreover, this will not be confined to the Middle East but will also be felt in Africa â€“ particularly through Boko Haram and in East Africaâ€“ and in Asia, as well as in the advanced industrial countries. The only way to prevent the horrors that loom is to create a unified powerful working class on the basis of a clear socialist programme.
The Tasks Ahead
We are in one of the most turbulent periods of world history. Hardly anywhere is there any stability. The past year has seen both the positive and deeply negative. The mass movement in Brazil, the swing to the left in the US, the struggle for democratic rights in Hong Kong, the early signs of a revival in the class struggle in other countries are important signposts for the future. But, at the same time, the expanding sectarian and ethnic wars in the Middle East and Africa are warnings of the horrors that can develop if the working class is unable to show a way out of this crisis. Our role in helping to rebuilding and politically rearm the workers’ movement is a key part of the work to forge a force that transform the world. The upheavals which will shake important countries will also give us the opportunity to make important breakthroughs and build substantial forces and influence. Our recent victories in Ireland and the USA have begun to demonstrate what will be possible in the next period in some countries.