The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

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

The Chaos of Capitalism in Crisis

Sep 7, 2022

The following article is a translation of large excerpts of the editorial which appeared in issue #226 of Lutte de Classe, the political journal of Lutte Ouvrière, the French Trotskyist organization, with which Spark has comradely relations.

“The bourgeoisie itself sees no way out of the crisis of its economy,” Trotsky commented in 1938, in the Transitional Program, “all the traditional parties of capital are in a state of disarray, bordering on paralysis of the will.” The Transitional Program was written at the time of the previous great crisis, which began in 1929, and whose effects Trotsky described as follows: “Cyclical crises, under the conditions of the social crisis of the whole capitalist system, inflict ever heavier deprivations and suffering on the masses. Growing unemployment, in its turn, deepens the financial crisis of the state and undermines unstable monetary systems.”

Trotsky was neither a soothsayer nor a fortune teller, predicting what would happen eight decades after his death!

Rather, capitalism, already decadent in his lifetime, has endured and is now stuttering again.

We know how the 1929 crisis ended: in the Second World War, with its 25 million dead on the battlefield, 50 million counting the civilians who died under the bombs, or from deprivation, hunger, and extermination.

The bourgeoisies, including those of the largest imperialist countries, were as blind then, as helpless in the face of the crisis of their own system, as they are today.

“Long live nuclear power, close the coal mines!” they had said for years, before rushing now to reopen them.

“Long live globalization,” they repeated for years, praising it for increasing their profits. Today, they explain, “Let’s beware of excesses for the sake of profit.”

At their forum a year ago, the central bankers of the imperialist world—who are to some extent the thinking heads of the big bourgeoisie—applauded their chief, Jerome Powell, the president of the U.S. Federal Reserve (the Fed), when he asserted that inflation was a temporary phenomenon and advocated keeping interest rates as low as possible, making cheap or even free credit available to big business.

This year at the end of August, the same bankers, meeting together, applauded Powell for proposing firmness in raising central bank interest rates. “Central banks’ sacred union against inflation,” ran the headline in Les Échos on August 29.

The only area in which the bourgeoisie has no “paralysis of will” is in the distribution of dividends, which have broken all records this year.

Nor is the bourgeoisie’s will paralyzed when it comes to attacking the living conditions of the exploited masses, starting with unemployment, the generalization of precariousness and the insidious or brutal destruction of every part of the public services that impact the exploited....

No matter who heads the governments of different countries, it makes little difference. They are all floundering, each in their own way. The whole bourgeois class is floundering, with absolutely no control over anything, but with the same aim: “As long as there is profit, it doesn’t matter,” or “après nous, le dèluge” or even like Chester Himes’ “blind man with a pistol.”

The same blindness prevails in the field of imperialist relations. Here again, we could see ourselves in the picture Trotsky gives of his time: “Under the increasing pressure of capitalist decline, imperialist antagonisms have reached the limit beyond which the various conflicts and bloody explosions (Ethiopia, Spain, the Far East, Europe, Central Europe) must infallibly merge into a world-wide conflagration.”

Today, the war drawing attention is the one between Russia and Ukraine, the latter which is supported by the camp of the imperialist powers. This war itself, the sanctions and counter-sanctions it provokes, the feverish search for alliances, the arms race—all bear witness to the same blind race toward chaos.

The imperialist bourgeoisie shows itself today just as unable to control the wars it has sought and helped to provoke.

Putin took the initiative to invade Ukraine, but it is American imperialism which fueled and is prolonging the war. Obviously, its leaders believe they have every interest to keep it going. American imperialism has already gained from resuscitating and strengthening NATO, which French President Macron described as “brain dead” just a short while ago.

It’s American imperialism that benefits from the weakening of Russia—and also from the difficulties that the war in Ukraine causes for U.S. allies, who are nonetheless its competitors in Europe, mainly Germany.

Unlike the wars in Vietnam or, more recently, Afghanistan, the United States does not have to send men to this war: it is fighting it with the skins of Ukrainians and Russians. And the weapons it generously sends provide a new market for its gun merchants.

Even so, the United States, the main imperialist power, cannot be sure that it won’t shoot itself in the foot with its war-mongering policy. As the phrase attributed to Lenin affirms, “A capitalist is willing to sell the very rope that will be used to hang himself.”

The economic development of the past and globalization have woven so many links between national economies, have so intertwined their ruling classes—rivals and at the same time accomplices—that it would be hard to unravel the question: “Who will be hurt the most by the game of sanctions and counter-sanctions?”

The only certainty is that the least powerful will suffer the most. But the whole world is plunging into bloody chaos.

In his time, Trotsky summarized “the global political situation as a whole” in the following way: “It is characterized above all by the historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat.” Since then, this “historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat” has ended in the complete shipwreck of the successive social-democratic and Stalinist leaderships.

The main, if not the only conclusion to be drawn is that the proletariat, instead of trying to revive the zombies that its former social-democratic and Stalinist leadership have become, must give itself a new, revolutionary leadership. With the objective, not to adjust or improve a capitalism sinking into crisis and bloodshed, but to overthrow the economic and political power of the bourgeoisie over the world. To build this party on an international scale remains the fundamental task of our time.