“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx
Nov 4, 2013
The following article was translated and excerpted from the December 2013-January 2014 issue of Lutte de Classe (Class Struggle), the political journal of Lutte Ouvrière, the revolutionary workers organization in France.
The economic crisis has varying consequences on the situation of each and every country. But it also has an impact of its own on the international situation. This is obvious when we examine the relationships between the national states that are members of the European Union (EU) or the “euro zone.” They are periodically impacted by the backlash of speculation on the states’ indebtedness. Indeed, the development of the crisis and its ups and downs affect not just a handful of countries, but all international relations.
This is a longterm feature of the system. The enduring slump of the global capitalist system has already had numerous, multisided political consequences, most of which could be tagged “reactionary,” as they reflect the weakening or even the wiping out of a conscious working class movement capable of standing for a political alternative to a bankrupt capitalist system. The present crisis is further aggravating these trends.
The collapse of the Soviet Union gave the final blow to Stalinism, once a unique aspect of the international working class movement. The Stalinist tendency developed in the wake of the 1917 Russian revolution, as a communist current transformed into the exact opposite by the degeneration of the Soviet state. Stalinists played a leading role in the suppression of the revolutionary traditions of the proletariat. They opposed any attempt by workers to take advantage of the revolutionary situations that repeatedly sprung up. And they ended up crawling their way out of the spotlight, leaving center stage to more and more reactionary forces.
The progressive nationalism that swept many poor countries after World War II was largely influenced by Stalinism, which imbued the struggles of many oppressed peoples against colonial or semi-colonial domination. And this nationalism also then left center stage to be replaced by reactionary forces. The parties in power in China, North Korea, Vietnam or Cuba still call themselves “Communist,” but their attractiveness has waned and they have long lost the appeal they used to enjoy among the oppressed peoples of the world.
In 1979, the coming to power of Khomeini in Iran marked a sharp turn in the sequence of events. Throughout the ArabMuslim world, the advocates of political Islam were able, to a certain extent, to successfully occupy the positions formerly held by the proponents of Third-Worldism. They managed to capitalize on the destitution of the poorest layers of society and on their feeling of oppression. The poor had already lost touch with the perspectives represented by the Russian revolution and communism. And they no longer supported the program put forward after World War II by the nationalist petty-bourgeois leaders who had organized the fight against colonial or semi-colonial domination.
Today, there are two crises that permanently impact each other: the crisis of the capitalist economy and the crisis in political and social conditions. The development of the economic crisis is determined by the fundamental mechanisms of capitalism. But in the absence of revolutionary, communist perspectives, the owners of capital have a free hand. And the lack of an alternative perspective to the continuation of capitalism and of imperialistic domination reinforces the disorientation and confusion of the oppressed millions.
In the richest imperialist countries, farright organizations are growing: France’s National Front, the United States’ Tea Party and others more or less vehemently standing for racist and xenophobic ideas.
The countries of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, whose various populations are intermingled, have seen the development of an aggressive nationalism. Starting in 1991, in exYugoslavia, this bellicose nationalism killed between 200,000 and 300,000 people in a ten-year war, forcing over a million others to flee their home.
The growth of rival jingoisms is threatening other countries of Central Europe or the Balkans: Romania, Slovakia, Hungary. In this region which had been carved up according to the relationship of forces existing between the imperialist camps, ultranationalism was often peppered with a good deal of irredentism, that is, each state coveting a territory belonging to a neighboring country and fearing to lose chunks of its own national territory to its predatory neighbors.
In Africa, the lack of perspective paved the way for deadly ethnic confrontations. After taking its toll in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Rwanda, ethnicism is still rife in the Congo and threatens to reappear in many countries where the evolution of capitalism imposed from the outside failed to integrate the existing ethnic groups into a national melting pot.
This is the context in which the existing international relations are being modified. For forty years following the end of World War II, the relationship between the United States, the dominant imperialist superpower, and the Soviet Union was the central element of this context. The U.S.Soviet Union relationship no longer is the cornerstone of worldwide foreign politics, but it doesn’t mean that it has become totally irrelevant.
The Yeltsin years were a catastrophe for Russia which, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, was itself threatened with disintegration under the blows of the bureaucratic clans who were intent on selling off the country’s industrial assets like so many “spare parts.” The United States, having become the only global “superpower,” viewed this as an opportunity to prevent Russia from ever reestablishing itself as a rival on the international scene.
NATO, long dominated by the U.S., now encompasses not only several Eastern Europe countries, former People’s Democracies, but also the Baltic countries, and it has set its aims on exSoviet Republics like Ukraine and Georgia.
The relative consolidation of the regime under Putin was not enough to transform the Russian national state into a superpower. But, as the country which is the main heir of the former Soviet Union, Russia regained a seat in the big powers’ club. Russia remains a big power thanks to its size, its resources, its armed forces and because it also benefits from a whole set of privileged diplomatic relations established at the time of the Soviet Union. It has the ways and means of carrying out its own international policies to defend its own national interests, including when these interests are different from, or opposed to, those of the United States – as was exemplified by the case of Syria.
The fact that the United States has lost its main foe, the Soviet Union, doesn’t deter commentators from regularly predicting its own decline. But the decline foretold is regularly refuted. The U.S. remains the number one imperialist superpower. Yes, it is weakened by the crisis which it is largely responsible for. But it is also the only country that can make other national states – including imperialist states – foot the bill. It can do that because the U.S. dollar continues to prevail on the international market, a fact which reflects the domination of U.S. imperialism on the global economy. The United States has the upper hand on the worldwide production apparatus. U.S. trusts established abroad control companies that are three times as important as those controlled by trusts based in the U.K., which is second to the U.S. in this respect.
The big U.S. banks dominate the global banking system. The U.S. is also the leader when it comes to research and development of new technologies.
The U.S. Navy has ships on all the world’s seas. U.S. military bases form a tight mesh that covers the entire planet. Let’s also mention U.S. intelligence and surveillance services, like the permanent watch on communications, which received indignant comments on the part of other imperialist governments (who would do the same… if only they could). The United States is still the number one enforcer of the worldwide imperialist order. There are still 60,000 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan — that is, twice as many as when Obama was first elected president. In Iraq, the “end U.S. presence” policy has been proven to be a lie: U.S. soldiers have simply been replaced by contractors, mercenaries hired and paid by the U.S. government. In the “tribal zone” of Pakistan and in Yemen, the United States is waging genuine wars, but refuses to acknowledge the fact.
Since the end of World War II, the other imperialist powers, notably those of Europe, have not been able to challenge the U.S. position as the number one imperialist power.
The crisis as a whole, and in particular its speculative meanderings, has shown the limits of the European Union whose promoters had once explained that, given its size, its population and its industrial capacity, it could compete with the United States and even successfully challenge U.S. leadership. In fact, capitalist Europe has failed to build a proper union. The present EU is a mock union that doesn’t have a unified state serving a unified bourgeoisie. European capitalism remains a collection of national capitalists who may have struck a number of deals with one another, but who fundamentally remain rivals. This is obviously the case of the main European imperialist powers: Germany, France, Great Britain, and, to a lesser extent, of the other Western European imperialisms.
Whether they be members or only would-be members of the EU, the countries situated in the eastern part of Europe and in the Balkans can only play second fiddle, dominated as they are by the trusts of Western Europe’s imperialist countries.
Inside this poorly and inadequately unified EU, each imperialism plays its own game. This is permanently exemplified by Great Britain, which refused to become a member of the Euro Zone. Its policy is characterized by its ties with its former colonial empire and privileged relations with U.S. imperialism. Germany’s policy consists in taking advantage of the demise of the former Soviet bloc to renew its attempts at expanding its influence eastward, inside and outside the EU.
As for France, it is a second-rate imperialist power compared to the United States and even to its partner – and rival – Germany. French big businesses (banks, hotels, car companies) work hand in hand with German imperialism to bleed the countries of Eastern Europe, as well as Greece. French President Hollande, who plays the great warrior, claimed to be in favor of an armed intervention in Syria – as long as it seemed to be Obama’s choice. But he quickly and pathetically retreated when the U.S. agreed to a compromise that saved Assad. This episode goes to show, simultaneously, the grandiose ambitions of French imperialism and the fact that it doesn’t have the means to impose its views.
However, France does assume the role of a big power and enforces imperialist order in the countries of its former colonial empire. The present Socialist Party government is carrying out a very aggressive imperialist policy, exemplified in 2013 by the French army’s intervention in Mali. France’s armed forces are expected to intervene, either on their own or together with the Chadian army, in the Central African Republic (CAR) where Bozizé’s downfall and the coming to power of armed gangs quickly led to a complete disintegration of the national state apparatus.
Despite the growing state indebtedness, the French Socialist-run government has maintained the bellicose imperialist policies of all its predecessors. In Ivory Coast, for instance, it supported Alassane Ouattara, whom the French troops helped come to power under Sarkozy, paying no attention to the fact that his predecessor, Laurent Gbagbo, proclaimed his allegiance to the “Socialist International.” Similar situations prevail in many African countries where the French army maintains military bases to support more or less dictatorial and corrupt regimes devoted to French imperialism. When they were in the opposition, the Socialists used to vilify the so-called “Françafrique” (a term designating France’s privileged relations with its former colonies). Today, the Socialist government has given it a new lease on life.
The reinforcement of the “eastward thrust” of German and French imperialism explains the rocky relationship between Europe and Russia. In their desire to maintain solid relations with the so-called “close foreign countries” (i.e., the countries that became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union), the Russian leaders find themselves in a muffled confrontation of wills with the EU leaders. The outcome of this arm wrestling will ultimately decide who will have the upper hand in the easternmost countries of Europe: Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan….
Capitalist development has created a modern proletariat not only in Africa but in many other underdeveloped regions of the world, where people live the life of the workers of Liverpool or Manchester at the time of the Industrial Revolution. But the struggles and the upsurges of the proletariat of the poor countries seldom make the headlines in the bourgeois media of the Western countries.
The proletariat is a minority in each of the countries we are talking about – like the proletariat was in the very backward country that Russia was before the 1917 Revolution. However today’s proletariat is much more numerous than it was in the 19th century in the handful of countries which were entering the era of Industrial Revolution.
In all the underdeveloped countries, today’s proletariat lives in the same neighborhoods and slums as the innumerable poor who do not even have the possibility of being exploited in big capitalist companies, mines or construction sites. With a class consciousness and with its own organizations able to defend a policy corresponding to its class interests, the modern proletariat of these countries will quite naturally spearhead the revolutionary mobilization of all the workers and poor living in the countryside or in cities. (This is all the more true since the big capitalist plantations of rubber trees, palm trees, etc. do not simply destroy the environment and force the peasantry to leave. They also create an agricultural proletariat which is even more exploited than the urban working class.)
The future belongs to the whole of this proletariat as well as to the proletariat of the old capitalist countries.
In its early years, the proletariat of Western Europe had to wait decades before it could develop the consciousness that its class struggles could be achieved only with the destruction of capitalist order. It took the help of Marx and the revolutionary communists of the time to draw that conclusion. The first decades of this early proletariat were marked by struggles that were at times sterile (the Luddites’ machine-breaking) or limited to organizing a form of worker solidarity. But then, the working class developed a consciousness of being a class, allowing Marx to discover, through his analysis of the functioning of capitalist economy, the objective reasons for the direction taken by the class struggle: the socialist revolution.
Stalinism broke the chain that transmitted the experience of class struggles accumulated by a proletariat that was more and more international, as was the capitalist economy that had created the working class.
In the countries that were drawn into the whirlpool of capitalist development well after Marx’s death or even after the 1917 Russian Revolution, the transmission of this experience could have saved the young proletariat of these countries many trials and errors. If this tradition existed today and if there were organizations that stood for it, they would organize the fight against the reactionary traditions which are making their comeback everywhere due to the delay of the socialist revolution.
The proletariat of the poorer countries will find its way just as the proletariat of the industrialized imperialist countries will get back on its road. The bourgeoisie cannot stop history in its tracks even if it has prolonged the life of its system of universal domination much longer than yesterday’s Communist revolutionaries would have thought.
We have often repeated that the construction of a revolutionary party is inseparable from that of an International. We don’t know the precise role a small organization like ours can play in the transmission of revolutionary Communist traditions. And we don’t know how the international communist movement will revive. But we know that we must think and act according to the possibilities and interests of the international proletariat, with the conviction that, sooner or later, the forces that will eventually overthrow capitalism will open up the road.