The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The International Situation

Oct 30, 2020

This is a text of orientation of Lutte Ouvrière, adopted at its national congress.

Part I

The crisis of the global capitalist economy is both intensifying the bourgeoisie’s social war against the working class and shifting the relations between those categories who are themselves victims of big capital. Not only this, but it also dominates international relations. The crisis inflames the rivalry between the imperialist powers. It heightens the pressure of imperialism on the poor countries. And it revives or worsens a vast number of tensions between nations, ethnic groups, and religions.

The pandemic, even while it reveals in its own way the extent to which humanity is one, has underscored all of the flaws and contradictions of the capitalist organization of society.

We can see everywhere the same incapacity to manage the pandemic other than by making the population responsible for preventing its spread. This hides the past and present responsibility of governments for the criminal lack of material and human resources in healthcare systems. In the face of a virus which respects neither borders nor distances, the national governments have taken an “every man for himself” attitude, and this creates more obstacles instead of cooperation.

The imperialist domination of the world constantly provokes the reaction of the oppressed peoples, whether directly or indirectly. Since the end of World War Two, there has been practically no moment without this type of conflict. Adopting a policy of dividing in order to rule, the imperialist powers continue to both use and encourage national, ethnic, and religious conflicts, even when they do not themselves create them. These conflicts, whose origins often lie in the distant past, are constantly kindled by the competition between the different imperialist powers.

The crisis, the impoverishment of the exploited classes even in the rich imperialist countries, and the reinforcement of reactionary and xenophobic ideas are exacerbating these tensions. The growing tension in international relations over the last several years illustrates how local conflicts can lead to generalized wars.

The civil war in Syria, set off in 2011 by Assad’s repression of his people, provoked a chain reaction across the Middle East. Through the web of alliances, it dragged in regional powers like Iran and Turkey. It led to the intervention of Russia and the involvement of all the imperialist powers to one degree or another.

The conflict this year between Azerbaijan and Armenia has increasingly involved Turkey, which is also intervening in the rivalries between warlords for control of Libya and its oil resources. Greece and Turkey, which are both members of the same military alliance, NATO, are verging on a military clash for control of territorial waters in the Eastern Mediterranean.

War is a bloody reality even in several regions surrounding Europe.

The fear of war has already become part of the worries facing the poor and working masses in many countries. It will ultimately reach those in the imperialist countries themselves.

For the masses in France, the military adventures of their own imperialism in its former colonial empire under the pretext of the “war on terror” still seem like a distant threat that doesn’t concern them much, since those adventures are carried out by an all‑volunteer army. But the feeling of a coming catastrophe will inevitably arrive with the rise in international tensions.

Through an entirely different path today than during the years that led to World War Two, the objectives which Trotsky put forward in the Transitional Program (“The Struggle against Imperialism and War”) are becoming immediately relevant.

In the imperialist countries like France, the politicians are not blowing the trumpet of the “hereditary enemy,” at least not for the moment. But the “fight against terrorism” serves the same function.

The antiterrorist measures enacted within countries like France and the U.S., like their military interventions abroad, are linked to and justified by the “defense of homeland security.” This is a fraud. To use the expression of the Transitional Program, “by this abstraction, the bourgeoisie understands the defense of its profits and plunder.”

The multiple local wars taking place in Asia and Africa have clearly made fortunes for arms dealers. At the same time, military spending is a reliable barometer for the worsening of the international situation. “Military expenditures have reached their highest level since the end of the Cold War,” states the report of an international institute specializing in the military.

At the same time, local clashes serve as training grounds for the armies of the big powers, if not directly, at least for the mercenaries they use. The growth in the number of mercenaries and private armies follows the same curve as that of arms sales.

Among the military alliances which could quickly lead to a generalized war, there are not only those which are official and marked by diplomatic treaties. There are also those which form between the merchants of artillery and airplanes in the imperialist countries and their clients.

Yemen, for example, which is not part of French imperialism’s direct sphere of influence, is nevertheless an excellent market for its weapons manufacturers.

The alliances which are made and unmade in Libya do not take shape only as a function of the balance of force between warlords, but also as a function of the trade advantages which can come from relations with one or the other of the warring camps. The civil war in Libya implicates many other countries, from Egypt to the United Arab Emirates, beyond those which for now have directly intervened on the ground.

The capitalist world is a powder keg. There are already many sparks, each of which could set off the chain reactions leading to a war which involves the big powers. This could then become the first phase of a new world war.

The opposition between two of the planet’s main powers, the United States and China, remains, for now, at the level of verbal jousting. However, a trade war between them is already underway. It may be checked for the moment by the interdependence of the U.S. and Chinese economies, which is due to the large presence of major U.S. and Western corporations in China. While the imperialist West exports capital to China, China exports goods to the West. Roughly half of all Chinese industry is oriented, in one form or another, to production for export. This interdependence is lopsided: the United States is an imperialist power, while China is still to a large extent a poor country. Not only does this unbalanced relationship exist on the economic level, it is also reflected on the military level and in the quantity and quality of the countries’ respective armaments.

There are already areas of friction with direct military implications. U.S. support for Taiwan, the island separated from China since Chiang Kai‑shek took refuge there after his defeat in 1949, is an old issue. Certainly in 1978, the United States recognized the People’s Republic of China. However, U.S. diplomatic actions, accompanied by naval operations and arms sales, are testimony to the U.S. desire to treat Taiwan as part of the belt of countries stretching from Malaysia to Japan and encompassing the Philippines with which it has allied in order to contain Chinese influence. This belt threatens China with loss of access to the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

The tiny archipelagos of the South China Sea known as the Paracels and the Spratleys are among the planet’s hotspots, where the naval vessels of China, the United States, and their allies cross paths and observe each other.

We are not yet in the midst of a dynamic like the one that led to World War Two, which at the time consisted mainly of two imperialist camps fighting to dominate the world. But the United States is already preparing its people for the idea of a clash with China. For Trump, even the coronavirus is Chinese, and the pandemic is an act of war! Biden’s readiness to sign on to the anti-China policies of Trump, even if not all the extravagant language, shows that the talk about the Chinese virus was not only a way to hide Trump’s regime’s obvious inability to fight the spread of the virus. It was also part of a general change in policy toward China, a change that at some point could lead to war.

In France as in other parts of Europe and in the U.S., the “war on terrorism,” with its international implications, has the same goal of enlisting the population. The repeated appeals for “national unity,” which are largely echoed by all of the parties of the bourgeoisie from one end to the other of the political spectrum, have this as their aim. Everything is done in the name of patriotism and each county’s “defense”—which has been the traditional way of justifying every war for imperialism, even the most vile.

With the worsening of international relations, revolutionary communists will increasingly have to denounce this fraud. They must combat bourgeois‑style patriotism with the internationalism of the working class, a fundamental part of the communist perspective.

Although a general propaganda for internationalism is indispensable, it is not enough. It is necessary to combat from one day to the next the policies and even the language of the parties of the bourgeoisie, which, beyond their differences, are unanimous when it is a question of defending their imperialism. They all have as their goal, whether stated or not, to get the working masses used to the wars which are already underway or those to come.

We must refuse “national unity,” which tries to hide the fundamental opposition between the interests of the exploited and those of their exploiters, and which aims to subordinate the exploited to their exploiters. We must refuse all policies which oppose the proletarians of one country to those of another, even those of a “separatist” (or left‑wing nationalist) variety.

Tying the problems posed by the economic aspects of the crisis to its military implications, the Transitional Program lays out the transitional demand which follows, in a concise form: “Not an armaments program but a program of useful public works.” This could be updated to say: “Money to build hospitals and to train and hire healthcare workers, and not for the arms industry.”

The bourgeoisie’s international policy is a continuation of its national policy by other means.

The imperialist powers cannot wage just wars. The wars which they are already waging or those in which they will take part are and will be imperialist wars.

The only way to oppose the dangers of war which loom heavy in international relations is to wage the only just war of our time: the revolutionary war of the proletariat to overthrow the power of the bourgeoisie. “The main enemy is in our own country.” This statement, which sums up the fundamental content of the attitude of revolutionary communists and which applied in the time of Karl Liebknecht, Lenin, and Trotsky, remains true today.

Part II

There was a section on the United States in the original text which we did not translate because we dealt with the situation in the U.S. in a larger way in a separate text, included as the second article in this magazine.

The Middle East

The conflicts for influence and the consequences of armed interventions by different regional powers and imperialism combine to make the Middle East a zone of constant tension. From Yemen to Syria and Libya, ongoing wars or latent wars persist, and they could always spill over into more violent and wider conflicts. But it is now the economic crisis which adds fuel to the flames, making the situation of the masses unbearable. It is also sharpening the bellicose tendencies of different regimes.

After Iraq and Iran, this year it was Lebanon which was the site of an important mass movement. The particular role of this country, at the center of regional banking transactions and financial flows, allowed it to sustain a relatively well‑off petty bourgeoisie for some time. These sources have dried up, causing an economic crisis all the more violent in light of the financial tricks which the country’s leaders tried to use in delaying it. The withdrawal of capital caused Lebanon’s currency to drop in value and the majority of the population to quickly fall into poverty. The popular revolt, bridging religious divides, took on the political system, its corruption and its inability to run the country with anything resembling consistency, both of which were illustrated by the catastrophic explosion in the port of Beirut on August 4. The demagogy of politicians like Macron, who call on Lebanese politicians to reform themselves, cannot erase the fact that modern‑day Lebanon is a creation of French colonialism and imperialism. Macron’s appeals to reestablish the country’s financial system are meant to tell the Lebanese ruling class to show itself capable of making the Lebanese population pay for and accept its dramatic impoverishment.

Under Trump, U.S. support for the Israeli government’s policies has abandoned all modesty. U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the installation of the U.S. embassy there, along with recognizing the “legality” of Israel’s colonies in the West Bank and its annexation of the Golan Heights, are a blank check given after the fact to the actions of Israeli policy. Netanyahu’s government has affirmed its desire to officially annex the West Bank and only postponed this decision in exchange for official recognition of the state of Israel by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrein. These two Arab states, which Sudan soon followed, no longer feel the need to even pretend to express solidarity with the Palestinians’ demand to have their own state. Normalizing their relations with Israel is certainly more promising from a commercial and financial point of view, not to mention the increased support which they got from the United States after their decision. The majority of Arab states now consider the regime in Tehran to be their main enemy and Israel as a possible partner in their struggle against Iran.

In fact, the Arab governments’ support for the rights of Palestinians was always purely symbolic. They proclaimed it for a long time in order not to alienate the opinion of the Arab populations, even though they did not hesitate to carry out a bloody repression of the Palestinian movements whenever they threatened to destabilize their regimes. During the “Black September” of 1970 in Jordan or during the Lebanese Civil War, it was the Arab states which put a stop to the development of Palestinian nationalist organizations. This helped Israel to reinforce its positions and its governments to refuse any recognition of rights for the Palestinian people.

Nevertheless, Israeli policy is faced with a contradiction. By continuing to reject any compromise with the Palestinians and expanding into their territories, Israel is making the so‑called two‑state solution increasingly unrealistic. But completely annexing the West Bank would mean integrating within Israel an Arab population which might become larger than the Jewish population, one that could not indefinitely accept a situation of apartheid. As has always been the case since the creation of Israel, its leaders continue to reject any real agreement with the Palestinians.

On the outskirts of the region, Turkey’s interventionism under Erdogan is a response to the deep crisis of its economy. After a period of relative prosperity, the markets it had found in Syria, Iraq, and Iran have become restricted. The decline in tourism and the public health crisis have added their impact on the situation in Turkey. Erdogan’s policy of high‑end construction drove the country into a debt which the country can no longer pay. This translates into a decline in the value of Turkey’s currency, the impoverishment of the majority of its population, and the discredit of its government. Erdogan’s response consists of posturing and of interventions against the Kurds, in Syria, in Libya, and in the Caucasus, not to mention his denunciations of France in the name of defending Muslims. The Turkish regime is also trying to get its hands on a part of the oil and gas resources of the Eastern Mediterranean and to shift the division of its territorial waters with Greece, even at the risk of starting a war. The other side of this policy is the constant strain within Turkey itself, with arrest after arrest, and with the repression and denunciation of supposed conspirators. Feeling itself threatened, the regime has succeeded in holding power—but only at this price.

In every country in the Middle East, as well as in North Africa and Turkey, the public health crisis has added its effects to those of an already catastrophic economic crisis. It has caused the situation of the masses to get even worse, but it also tends for the moment to paralyze their reactions. In Algeria, the coronavirus arrived at just the right moment to allow the regime to put an end to the protest movement that had lasted since February 2019, making a turn toward repression. In all of these countries, the situation remains no less explosive. Faced with increasingly untenable conditions, demands and revolts can only spring forth again.

Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya, and now also Lebanon show how imperialist domination can ruin countries, whether by physical and material destruction or by destruction of their economies. Putting an end to this domination of imperialism will also require overthrowing the dictatorships which are imperialism’s intermediaries and the borders by which it has divided the region.

Russia and Its “Near Abroad” Rattled by Crises

The states of the former Soviet Union, most of which were already in the throes of quasi- permanent crises since the dissolution of the USSR three decades ago, are seeing these crises take on a sometimes explosive turn with the aggravation of the crisis of the global economy.

In Kyrgyzstan, one of the five members of the free trade zone surrounding Russia, fraudulent elections followed by riots resulted in the overthrow of the government. This was a repeat of what had happened in 2005 and 2010 under similar circumstances. Over the past 15 years, corruption, authoritarianism of the clans in power, and the continued impoverishment of the populations have led to so‑called “color revolutions” in Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Moldavia, and other Central Asia countries.

War has broken out once again between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno‑Karabakh. This is playing out against the headlong rush of the governing cliques in the region, trying to distract their populations from the rulers’ own responsibility in their impoverishment, and in the context of the rivalry and warlike brinkmanship between Russia and Turkey each to assert its power over the Caucasus, as a kind of guardian in the region.

When the USSR still existed, the bureaucrats who ruled its fifteen republics raced to divide up their peoples and resources by using a largely nationalist demagogy. In 1988, Nagorno‑Karabakh, with a majority‑Armenian population, seceded from Azerbaijan, on which it had until then depended administratively.

Six years of “ethnic cleansing” and war resulted in 30,000 deaths and caused more than one million people to lose their homes throughout the region. Since then, these populations, who had lived together in the same territory for centuries, were plunged into a climate of armed hostility between neighbors, maintained by their leaders and the great powers that sponsor them.

The revolution of October 1917 proclaimed the right of peoples to self‑determination and gave the peoples of the old czarist Russian Empire the widest freedom to choose how to organize their collective life within the Soviet Union. But it did not have the capacity to resolve the “national question” within the framework of a single country, especially an isolated and poor one. This goal—like many others for which Lenin, Trotsky, and their comrades fought—could only have been obtained if the socialist revolution, triumphing in at least a few developed countries, had allowed all of Soviet society, in its diversity of nations and of everything else, to raise its material and cultural level of existence.

The revolution retreated in Europe during the 1920s. In the USSR, this allowed a counter‑revolutionary bureaucracy to usurp the power of the working class. Wiping out all opposition under its dictatorship, the Stalinist bureaucracy also trampled on the rights of peoples, some of whom (Chechens, Crimean Tatars, etc.) were even deported.

Nevertheless, and despite all the horrors of Stalinism, more than a hundred nationalities lived together in a largely peaceful way for seven decades within the vast multiethnic whole that was the USSR.

The disappearance of the USSR was an historic step backwards. One of its most appalling aspects is that its peoples have once again been torn apart by the barbed wire of artificial borders, while their lives are filled with blood, just as they had been under czarism, with its pogroms and national hatreds fueled by the ruling class.

This is also the case in eastern Ukraine. Its population is held hostage by national bureaucratic mafias within the framework of a power struggle between the West and Russia. The result: thousands of deaths, endless destruction, and a vengeful chauvinism that poisons social life in Ukraine as well as in Russia.

In Russia for the past twenty years, Putin has played on nationalism to remain in power. Facing repercussions of the global crisis on the country, the regime has enacted policies to safeguard the income of the rich and privileged at the expense of the laboring classes, undermining the relative “popular” consensus which had been the foundation of Russian Bonapartism. In order to consolidate his power, the master of the Kremlin just granted himself a sort of presidency‑for‑life.

In Belarus this summer, the power of the president, Alexander Lukashenko, was undermined when his fraudulent reelection to govern the country brought crowds of demonstrators into the street, then set off a strike of tens of thousands of workers. Despite unrelenting repression, he has still not managed to re-establish control, even with the support of Putin—who is aware that the effects of the global crisis could also shake his regime—and with the more hypocritical backing of Western European governments, which fear political and social chaos taking hold at their doorstep.

This “last dictatorship in Europe”—called that by Western politicians who do not forgive it for having kept characteristics of the Soviet regime—has been in place for 26 years. The Belarusian regime, even while keeping its bureaucrats supplied with perks, has not carried out the kind of mafia‑connected privatizations like those in Russia and Ukraine, nor has it destroyed the social benefits of the previous era or carried out the other market “reforms” that have brutally impoverished the population in the rest of the ex‑USSR.

But by jeopardizing the Belarusian regime’s profitable role as middleman between Russia and the West, the global crisis has forced it to drastically modify the “social compromise” upon which it had rested. The regime attacked the basic living conditions of the working class and tore up hopes the petty bourgeoisie had previously entertained of becoming rich.

This explains the contradictory character of the current protests, with a petty bourgeoisie that has its eyes on the West and laboring classes who feel that although the regime is their enemy, the liberal opposition is not their ally—even when the liberals continue to call on the workers to unite ... behind the liberals’ political objectives and their class interests.

The workers of Belarus have every reason to use the protests against the autocrat Lukashenko to organize themselves, to put forward their own demands. The working class should not only challenge the liberal opposition—which is in fact pro‑bourgeois—in its claim to lead the entire population in the struggle against the regime. The working class should also appear as the standard‑bearer for another form of economic organization—other than the mafia paternalism of the bureaucracy or a return to the bosom of the market—an organization of the economy run by the working class, a socialist system that does not confine itself to making only a radical change within a single country—an impossible task—but that has as its perspective the overthrow of capitalism and all forms of oppression throughout the world.

There is no party that defends this perspective in the Belarusian crisis. This perspective has not been advocated for during any of the major crises in other countries, during which the working class has fought, sometimes even taking center stage. This was the case during several decades in Eastern Europe, especially in Poland.

The rapid worsening of the crisis of the capitalist world makes it more necessary than ever that there be organizations once again defending this perspective, in front of the workers, and in their name before all of the social layers who are looking to overturn an increasingly unbearable social order. Building revolutionary communist organizations rooted in the working class is an urgent and essential task. It is the only one which truly carries any possibility for humanity to get past the stalemate of only defensive fights against the mounting ills of capitalism, which will continue to mount if working‑class revolution does not put an end to this system.