Feb 12, 2016
The following article was translated and excerpted from the April 2016 Lutte de Classe (Class Struggle), the political journal of Lutte Ouvrière (LO), the revolutionary workers organization in France. This overview of the international situation was presented as one of the texts adopted by LO at its 45th Congress that took place on March 12 and 13.
There is war in the Middle East, in Africa and in part of the exUSSR; armed gangs are making their own laws, the sound of marching boots can be heard everywhere: the imperialist order is challenged in several regions of the globe and is giving off the same putrid smell as last year but now even stronger.
To those fleeing Africa, its wars, its dictatorships and its poverty in the illusory hope of finding a more dignified life in Europe, are added the migrants from the war-torn Middle East. “The biggest wave of migration since the Second World War,” screams the gutter press. Even if this kind of statement is mostly aimed at spreading panic in rich imperialist countries, the comparison is not a coincidence. The world is sinking deeper into barbarity; not the barbarity that caused Victor Serge at the end of the 1930s to write that it is “Midnight in the Century,” but a plunge into barbarity nonetheless.
Since the summer of 2014, the politics of imperialist powers in the Middle East have been centered around the question of “overcoming ISIS.” Its sudden appearance, the control that its militia now have over more and more widespread territories, is a problem for them, not because of the ferocity of the dictatorship that the Islamic State holds over populations but because it cannot be controlled and makes the system of divisions and oppositions on which imperialist domination of the Middle East relies even more unstable.
ISIS did not appear out of nowhere, any more than did the various armed groups that are fighting one another for control of the territories. The policy of the imperialist powers has been to favor the most reactionary groups and regimes. The so-called “jihadist” groups developed particularly in Afghanistan when the United States used them against Soviet military intervention. The U.S. armed and financed them, notably with the help of Saudi Arabia for whom at first bin Laden was an agent. But having created alQaeda, bin Laden wanted to unite, under his own flag, the various different existing armed groups, from Afghanistan to Algeria. By carrying out terrorist attacks on targets such as the twin towers in New York on September 11, 2001, he gained a reputation as a fighter against Western influence.
The military adventure in Iraq begun under President George W. Bush in 2003 paved the way for the development of such militias. By setting up a political power dominated by the Shia clans and by firing Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army and all its Sunni officers, U.S. leaders created thousands of potential fighters for the militias. In the misery and ruins of Iraqi society that resulted from Western military occupation, joining the militia is often the only way to earn money and feed your family. Finance and support have not been lacking, and powers like Saudi Arabia or Iran have been quick to see how useful such militia could be in the power struggle that opposes the two countries.
From 2011 on, the destabilization of the Syrian regime widened the battleground between the different militia and the different powers. Bashar alAssad's regime violently repressed the popular rising that started in Syria in March 2011 following the “Arab Spring” in Tunisia and Egypt. When part of the Syrian opposition created armed groups to fight against the regime, the different factions in the region tried to use those groups as political instruments.
Since the start of this civil war, the imperialist powers have given very calculated support to the Syrian opposition groups. Interested in weakening the Damascus regime, which was too independent for their liking, Western leaders were not necessarily interested in its downfall until they had guarantees about the political power that was to follow. But they did not stop Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar from openly helping the different Islamic militias that sprang up and that were rivals more often than not.
Bashar alAssad's regime, by liberating Islamic opponents, carried out a policy of making things worse in order to show Western leaders that the only alternative to his remaining in power would be a fundamentalist regime, even more difficult for imperialism to control.
In this situation, ISIS, born out of alQaeda and reinforced by former officers of the Iraqi army, was able to take over vast territories both in Iraq and Syria and set up its own power base there. A product of imperialist policy and the competitive interventions by the regimes close to Iraq and Syria, it nevertheless escapes their control, just as it escapes the influence of Western powers and has taken up alQaeda's policy by organizing terrorist attacks in Europe and in numerous other countries, including Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and Yemen.
The United States has made war against the Islamic State its prime objective in the “war on terror,” which has for years been the banner of its politics. The war against ISIS and its exactions have given them an excuse to assemble an international coalition whose real aim is to try to impose, behind Washington's policy, a semblance of unity of states with very different interests. For the most part, the policy is a failure because it cannot stop Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar from each playing their own game. The United States would have liked to rely on the Turkish regime, but it continues to favor ISIS and to make its priority war against the Kurds. Saudi Arabia has fought more against the influence of Iran than it has against ISIS. But the United States would like relations with Iran to be normalized, in order to stabilize its situation in Iraq and Syria. In much the same way, France, despite making a show of being alongside the United States in the fight against ISIS, has profited from the difficulties that the United States has had with its allies, in order to mark its difference with the U.S., positioning itself most of all to sell arms to Saudi Arabia and its allies.
After Iraq, Syria and also Yemen are now regions where the different powers and their more distant protectors fight, using militia as intermediaries. The Middle East has for many years been focused on the conflict that opposes Israel on the one hand and the Arab and Muslim countries on the other. This conflict has not disappeared; the Palestinian people continue to be oppressed by the State of Israel with the support of imperial powers. But it is the conflicts that oppose Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Emirates on one side, and Iran and its allies on the other, that dominate the news – not forgetting the different Kurdish factions which, while remaining rivals, are using the situation to their own advantage by marking out a territory for themselves.
To present these conflicts as a large Sunni camp against a large Shia camp is an overly false and misleading simplification even if, in the absence of any other ideology, the protagonists are relying on religious affiliation for solidarity. In a context where the supremacy of the great powers is now questioned and where their divisive politics tend to carve the region up even more, the borders that were traced arbitrarily in 1919 at the end of the Ottoman Empire make little or no sense, and the fighting or wars between regional powers are intensifying. The imperialist powers themselves are hard pressed to control these struggles, even if they provoked them.
The unified façade of the antiISIS coalition cannot hide enormous cracks, as well as the fact that it has no defined political aim other than to continue, come what may, to maintain an imperialist presence in a region that is falling apart, trying to manage increasingly unresolvable contradictions on a day-to-day basis. In this context, Russia's military intervention in Syria, which began in the autumn of 2015, very likely with the approval of the United States, helped the latter out of a difficult situation. It is obvious that there is no political alternative to the Damascus regime after five years of civil war, unless Syria is definitively turned over to uncontrollable armed groups fighting over territory and pillaging the population. U.S. leaders know full well that Damascus can be a reliable partner, all the more ready to collaborate since it has been put under strong pressure and even if this implies that the U.S. shares influence with Russia and Iran. But it is difficult for the U.S. to admit this openly without increasing the difficulties it has with its local allies such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
As far as possible, the United States prefers to leave it to Russia to reestablish the authority of the Syrian regime, which is Russia's ally. It only costs the U.S. a little verbal protest when Russian bombs hit armed groups that they previously supported but are now ready to abandon. Similarly, the negotiations to find a “political solution” in Syria, which commenced under the aegis of the UN, are only a façade that allows them to wait until a solution is worked out on the ground, which can take some time, even with the help of the Russian military intervention.
The situation in the Middle East is a prime example of imperialist policies. Hiding behind words like peacekeeping, democracy and people's rights, what the imperialists want is to keep territories under their rule, even if this means acting with complete and utter cynicism by manipulating armed groups, by playing on the contradictions between the interests of one or another faction and by de facto relying on dictatorships that they claim to be fighting. Far from fighting terrorism, this policy feeds it, sometimes by direct support or, at the very least, by keeping terrorism permanently supplied with combatants. Even if ISIS were beaten in the Middle East, it would only make way for new avatars of jihadism who would try their luck in other places – or even in the same ones – with the self-seeking support of this or that power.
The war against ISIS is already a pretext to set up a new coalition for future military intervention in Libya, where ISIS has spread. The aim will be to reinstate political stability, badly shaken by earlier military interventions which merely handed over the country to competing militias, opening up the scene for the activity of jihadist groups and jeopardizing the exploitation of oil resources. By relying more and more on methods of highway robbery, imperialism continually destabilizes its own system of exploitation and domination.
The rich, imperialist countries may well surround themselves with barbed wire, but this does not protect them from the repercussions of war in the Middle East and mounting barbarity: the barbed wire is in fact one of the expressions of this barbarity.
The repercussions of war in the Middle East do not reach Europe only in this way. Terrorist attacks, a deadly byproduct of these wars, are used as propaganda by imperialist powers, not least by the French, in order to maintain a more and more warlike climate. The state of emergency proclaimed in France is totally ineffective against bomb attacks and even more so against terrorism. But it serves to try to keep the population on the side of government and to maintain the idea that the country is a fortress under siege, and this has repercussions on those few democratic freedoms on which imperialist democracies prided themselves.
While denouncing terrorism and reactionary political currents that use terrorism to impose their dictatorship, we reject all forms of a “sacred” union with those responsible for the politics of French imperialism.
Among the repercussions, there is also the rise of the extreme right wing almost everywhere in Europe. It is developing everywhere because people have had enough of the traditional bourgeois political parties, of their inability to do anything about the worldwide capitalist economic crisis and its many consequences.
Those organizations that use xenophobia, chauvinism and racism as their political capital, are gaining power based on the fears that they use but that they also spread and amplify.
Such organizations are developing mainly because there is no political workers' movement to oppose them and to offer society a perspective that differs from the pathetic posturing of the traditional left, including the Communist Party, where it still exists.
The European Union, the coalition of European imperialist exploiters laboriously put together over five decades, is falling apart at the seams. Five years after the Euro crisis (2010-2011) and last year's Greek crisis, it is now the attitude toward immigrants that is setting the different countries of the European Union against one another.
In what is called “the migration crisis,” French imperialism, driven by a socialist government, has one of the most abject attitudes. Angela Merkel, a rightwing politician, seems almost like a humanist next to Hollande and Valls, whose anti-immigrant vocabulary and politics would not shame the right or the extreme right wing.
And yet, the great powers that dominate Europe all agreed to put pressure on Turkey, a state that is not even a part of the European Union, to accept the immigrants from Syria and Iraq (even if it has already two and half million inside the country), while demanding that Turkey stop the migrants from continuing their journey toward Europe. They are making the same cynical demands that they made to Greece, a country which is part of the European Union but one of the poorest ones.
The closure of borders within the European Union, the barbed wire between Hungary and Croatia, Slovenia and Austria, or the reintroduction of border controls between Germany and France, Germany and Austria, are the death knell of the Schengen Agreement. It is the start of nationalist retrenchment and it is difficult to say just how far this will go.
The reactionary way things are evolving is even posing problems for the bourgeoisie, or at least for its economic interests.
A headline in the newspaper Les Echos on February 4 was: “End of Schengen Area Likely to Have Highly Negative Effect on European Economy” and the article that followed stated: “France Stratégie, a think tank attached to the French prime minister, estimates the economic impact of the end of the Schengen Agreement at 13 billion euros for France in 2025, i.e., 0.5 points of the GNP. And for all the Schengen Area countries put together, the impact would be even higher, roughly 0.8 points of the European GDP, i.e. more than 100 billion euro ten years from now.”
And with good reason: big companies, which have benefitted the most from the European Common Market, have built up a whole network of interdependent factories. If we take the automotive industry as an example, the manufacturing process for a car crosses and recrosses borders. The reintroduction of border controls has increased transport time and, consequently, delivery times, all of which has an impact on the flow of trade. The same agency quoted by Les Echos adds: “The direct cost for France will be one or two billion euro depending on how intense the border controls are, not counting the budget cost of such controls.” This will weigh heavily on the economy because nearly half of France's external trade is with member-countries of the Schengen Area.
Even the English big bourgeoisie, worried about keeping its links to the United States, despite its membership in the European Union, does not want to break off relations with Europe. The big bourgeoisie usually leaves its government free to manage day-to-day policies, but is beginning to worry publicly about the referendum on the question of European Union membership that the Conservative government is planning under pressure from the nationalist right wing.
The possibility of Great Britain leaving the European Union (Brexit) is worrying not only the British bourgeoisie but also international finance. It adds an element of uncertainty at a time when the possibility of a worldwide financial crash is shaking European countries and their jerrybuilt Union. European banks are on a very slippery slope. The euro zone is again threatened by a return of the Greek, Portuguese, and possibly even Italian sovereign debt crisis.
The European Union has never been anything more than an agreement between competing European powers, forced to unite up to a point in order to survive in the war that they wage on one another. But the disappearance of the few positive aspects, however limited, that this Union has engendered, such as free circulation between European countries, would be a setback; it would demonstrate that progress is impossible as long as the bourgeoisie rules.
In our criticism of the antiEuropean propaganda of some of the political left – once the Communist Party and now Mélenchon, a former Socialist minister who created his own party, or even part of the extreme left wing – we have always denounced the fact that such organizations, in holding European institutions responsible for what is in fact the responsibility of the dictatorship of big capital on the economy, waylay workers from the target of the class struggle against the big bourgeoisie and its domination of the economy and society. In the context of this reactionary evolution, the political agitation by those who set themselves up as being on the left of the left, seems more and more like that of the nationalist right wing and of the far right wing.
The slide to the right that characterizes a number of rich Western European countries – the Nordic countries, including Denmark, Sweden and Norway, brandished for so long as models of bourgeois democracy – is more visible in the Eastern European countries. Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, countries that belong to the so-called Visegrad group, have elected governments that have added an exaltation of European Christian roots and open xenophobia to the usual arguments of France's National Front.
In these countries that are poorer than the Western part of Europe, political expression of social relations is more brutal than in the old imperialist democracies. Orban may boast of having shown an example to Western democracies in his attitude of rejecting migrants, but France's socialist leaders attract attention by being more hypocritical.
It is an exception in Europe that the discredit of the traditional bourgeois political parties in Greece has, at least initially, helped not the extreme right wing Golden Dawn but Syriza which claimed to be extreme left wing. Tsipras's election as leader of the government was the outcome of a certain electoral radicalization of the popular classes in Greece.
The attitude of the troika (the IMF, the Central European Bank and the European Commission) showed that the states that make up the European Union are not equal, despite the allegedly democratic façade of this Union. Relations between the imperialist powers in Europe and the countries in the poorer part of Europe are governed by the same type of relations as the whole of the imperialist world: the bourgeoisie of the richest countries imposes its diktats on the weaker States.
The promises that Tsipras made to his electorate were very modest as far as wages and retirement pensions were concerned. The originality of his politics compared with his predecessors resided above all in his refusal to allow Greece to be treated by the imperialist powers of Europe like some sort of half-colony under their supervision. He never in any way represented the political interests of the Greek working class. He never said that he did, even if others attributed aims to him that he never had. He never even tried to attack the Greek capitalists, the bourgeoisie of shipowners, the church, etc. And he was in no position to make a show of force against the demands of the bourgeoisie's international institutions.
It did not take long for Tsipras to break down under the pressure of the bourgeoisie's international institutions and accept the job of carrying out the demands that finance made on his country. It was never Tsipras's intentions nor his politics to look for support from the popular masses.
The political evolution in Spain bears some resemblance to that of Greece. The demoralization of the exploited classes by the traditional parties of the bourgeoisie, particularly social-democrats, is obvious from the rise of Podemos but also from the rise in a desire for Catalan independence. But where Tsipras at least tried to resist pressure from the international bourgeoisie for a while, Pablo Iglesias, even before joining the government, seems prepared to do any kind of bargaining in order to get there.
Even when traditional parties that are in power get so worn out that they are no longer credible in the role of ensuring alternating political power, the bourgeoisie knows where to find candidates to fill the role; candidates who have, however briefly, enough political credit to be elected and then govern in the interests of the bourgeoisie.
The exUSSR, in particular its two major components – Russia and Ukraine – is undergoing the cumulated effects of two major crises. The fall of the Soviet Union, 25 years ago, was an earthquake affecting one sixth of the planet, and the aftershocks continue today, with the current RussiaUkraine conflict as the most recent manifestation. Second, the repercussions of the worldwide capitalist economic crisis is affecting both of these countries and their populations, albeit in various ways.
Ukraine was on the brink of defaulting on a payment a little over two years ago when its leaders were considering whether to accept the treaty of association that the European Union was negotiating with it. Since then, the situation has worsened: the state can no longer make ends meet without the political and financial support of the imperialist powers; its then president, Ianoukovitch, was thrown out by big demonstrations of the population and now there is a sort of chaos against a background of war and economic and social collapse.
The treaty just implemented excludes any perspective for Ukraine to join the EU: it is limited to a commercial partnership between a country on its knees and Europe, or rather Europe's major companies that go to Ukraine to do business: to sell their products (to those who can afford them), to buy up bankrupt companies, to produce using a labor force more qualified than in Asia but paid as little or even less.
The treaty has meant that Ukraine had to sever its ties with the Eurasian Union, a free exchange zone including certain ex-soviet republics around Russia, which is the main outlet for Ukraine's production. When in power, the Ukrainian president, Ianoukovitch, estimated that Ukraine – or in fact, its bureaucratic clans – had more to lose than to gain from a treaty with the EU, and so he rejected it.
This provoked a movement similar to the “Orange Revolution” ten years ago. Social protests started in the proWestern student milieu and spread to the petty bourgeoisie in the larger towns and carried along in its wake more popular social strata. Despite violent police intervention, the governing authority was unable to stem the flow of mobilization and, as it progressed, part of the population believed that they recognized their own goals in the goals of the movement – to aspire to a better life, to put an end to the corruption, greed and impunity of the thieves who were in power.
During the months of occupation of Kiev's central area, the Maidan movement was strongly supported by Europe and also particularly by the United States, which saw this as a new opportunity to advance its pawns to the detriment of Russia in what had been the Soviet Union.
After the Maidan movement – which brought together leading rival politicians and clans, parties from proEuropeans to ultranationalist fascists – it was clear from the start that the new power was riddled with internal contradictions. Events had split the state apparatus apart from one end of the country to the other, so the authorities called on the forces – bureaucrats, mafia, profiteers – that controlled their regions and their riches. Ianoukovitch had barely been shown the door when those who threw him out were ostentatiously swearing in politicians and oligarchs of the previous regime, also reviled by the population.
In the provinces, Kiev’s control is only virtual and is totally nonexistent in the industrial East, which had seceded with Moscow's support. The Kremlin was able to bring back into the fold the Crimea with its largely Russian population, its naval bases, its military industries. But Crimea's dependence on Ukraine for its land communication lines, its energy, water and basic goods are now problems that Russia is hard pressed to resolve. Added to this and motivated by what the Western states consider to be an annexation, a whole series of sanctions were applied that worsened the impact of the world crisis on Russia's economic and financial state.
Russia's leaders, who had lost Little Russia (Ukraine), boasted that they had (re)claimed the Donbass and Crimea from a country that turned its back on them. It is a Pyrrhic victory for the Kremlin and above all a cruel trap for the working class of both Russia and Ukraine.
In Ukraine, this created a dramatic divide within the population, sometimes even within families. The Donbass war, which has already caused nearly 10,000 deaths and hundreds of thousands of refugees, destroyed areas, industries and infrastructure, and turned life in these heavily populated areas of the front line into a living hell.
This climate of war also reinforces the power of oligarchs over their fiefdoms and the government. Confronted by authority that is incapable of commanding obedience, and, despite Western aid, incapable of forming regiments of conscripts that do not desert, business magnates have created their own private armies. These troops, made up of looters and extreme rightwing activists, simultaneously wage war in the East against Kiev's enemies and protect the fiefdoms of those who pay them against Kiev's dreams of establishing its authority.
The extreme right wing is no longer represented in the government. But its ultranationalist and quasi-fascist talk echoes and amplifies the warlike nationalism and anticommunism of those in power, which Europe and America applaud. It is not enough for the extreme right wing to infest the atmosphere with its ideology: its people have also infiltrated the workings of the state apparatus, starting with the repressive forces.
The extreme rightwing groups, which are often inseparable from private militias of the companies, are a threat to workers who want to react to the rapid increase in prices, unemployment and “anti-crisis” government measures demanded by the IMF and other collection agents for international big business.
But these groups feel strong enough and sure enough of their impunity to try to stop the rare public demonstrations by extreme leftwing or similar groups and either attack their militants or keep files on them.
For years Putin's regime in Russia has been able to maintain a certain social peace – with almost no unemployment, salaries that have increased a little in real terms. But the drop in commodity prices, a result of the drop in international demand linked to the global crisis, combined with Western sanctions, has thrown the country into recession.
The ruble has reached its lowest level in more than a decade, inflation is soaring, world gas and oil prices – on which revenues more than half of the Russian government’s budget depends – have dropped brutally; the GNP, which had already decreased in 2014, dropped 3.7% in 2015. And it looks as if the drop will continue in 2016.
While whole sectors are threatened (automobile, agriculture), companies are closing or putting their employees on unpaid leave. At the end of January, the government had to launch a 9-billion-euro anti-crisis plan. It had to rethink its 2016 budget, drawn up on the basis of a price of $50 per barrel of oil (half what it was a year ago), which had fallen to $30. It also announced a major privatization plan to bring in money but also to offer new opportunities for pillage to rich and privileged locals.
Despite the bombastic cries of Russian leaders, who had claimed that Western sanctions would help some local production and that the Russian state had enough foreign exchange reserves to hold out, the population has seen nothing for more than a year but threatening clouds. And the Kremlin’s nationalistic pointing toward Turkey does nothing to help. Many public works projects are carried out by Turkish companies. Also not helpful are the cheers by foreign leaders and the media in support of Russian military operations in Syria.
The latter are aimed at ensuring that the rare military bases that the Kremlin has outside the exUSSR are maintained and, above all, to make the United States see them as essential in the explosive question of the Syrian quagmire and the so-called “global war on terror.” In addition to promoting itself as a power that is once more front and center, the Kremlin also hopes that this will reduce Western sanctions.
But this policy of daily bombardments, of moving fleets, airplanes, military equipment and thousands of soldiers has a cost. It is a terrible cost for populations. But it is also enormous for the already hard-pressed finances of the Russian state and for the Russian population that pays and will continue to pay the bill: through bigger and bigger cuts in social spending and state spending useful to the population and through increased taxes, but also by increased nationalist and militarist brainwashing for the whole society.
No one can tell whether Russian leaders could “brainwash their people,” hide social reality behind cannon fire, as easily as in the past: the reality of massive corruption among bureaucrats, the ostentatious lifestyle and criminal enrichment of oligarchs, while the living standards of the majority of the population have melted away.
With Putin, Russia has regained the weight in international relations that it lost during Yeltsin's rule. But the balance of power is a long way from where it was with the United States at the time of the USSR, even at its end. While Russia remains a great power on a military level, it has been considerably weakened with the breakup of the USSR and the disappearance of a planned economy.
Its relations with the United States remain as contradictory as they were at the time of the USSR. Its current intervention in Syria shows that, even if it knows how to make the most of an opportunity to protect its big power interests, it does so by acting as an auxiliary in maintaining an international order dominated by the interests of imperialism.
The slowdown in China's growth is particularly linked to industry. It has caused massive layoffs. Long May, the biggest mining group in the Northeast, announced that it was cutting 100,000 jobs out of the 240,000 in Heilongjiang (formerly Manchuria), a region of heavy industry. While in the last few years, average salaries have increased due to the effect of workers' movements, companies, whether Chinese or Western, have relocated their production to lower-cost countries. For example, in 2010, 40% of Nike shoes were produced in China, compared with 13% in Vietnam, but the Chinese figure dropped to 20% in 2013 and the Vietnamese figure rose to 42%. The salary increases remain nonetheless relative. Chinese workers producing Apple smart phones worth around $800 each are paid $1.85 an hour. And if strikes and workers' movements seem to be multiplying, particularly in industry, construction and mines, two thirds of them were for the simple payment of wages. The proletariat continues to pay a high price for what Western media like to call “the Chinese miracle:” savage exploitation, endless work weeks, fatal accidents, etc. Not to mention poisoning or pollution that probably kill some 1.6 million people a year, i.e. 4,400 people per day.
During the summer of 2015 and again in January 2016, both the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges suffered a veritable crash. The Shanghai stock exchange had gone up 150% in a year, creating a speculative bubble that has now burst. It is a symptom of the slowdown of the economy, but a crash can accelerate it. It is doubtless too early to say whether the consequences may be as bad as the Asian crash in 1997, when the Malaysia stock exchange plunged and dragged South East Asia and its “dragons” into a crisis. The fact that, despite liberalization over the last 35 years, a large number of Chinese companies are controlled by the State, allows it to cushion the shocks of the market. But the Chinese petty bourgeoisie and big bourgeoisie, some 200 million people, who invested in the stock exchange and real estate, two sectors now in crisis, are counting their losses.
Internal political life is marked by the campaign against corruption and against the “infringement of party discipline.” Numerous cadres are dismissed by the pair in power, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang. In December, Guo Guangchang, with the 11th largest fortune in the country, “disappeared” for four days at the hands of the police, which forced the Fosun conglomerate (owners of Club Med) to suspend its activity on the stock market. Another boss, Mike Poon (co-owner of Toulouse-Blagnac airport) disappeared for six months before miraculously reappearing “back in his office.” Others were less lucky: some got long prison sentences, some died mysteriously in prison. The billionaire Xu Ming, a 44-year-old industrialist with no history of cardiac problems, had the misfortune to link his fate with that of Bo Xilai, a “red prince” who was sent to prison in 2012 and still rots behind bars. Behind these sanctions are pitched battles inside the state apparatus that sometimes grow violent.
It is quite difficult to foresee the political consequences of the slowdown of China's economy. Nevertheless, during the years that this country has become “the workshop of the world,” a considerable Chinese proletariat has developed, one of the biggest in the world. The immense peasantry of this country has become largely proletarian. It is the work of this proletariat that has allowed the big Chinese towns to become modern metropolises. It is their labor that keeps “the workshop of the world” going, that has not only allowed the Chinese bourgeoisie and a gentrified state bureaucracy to get richer while enabling big business in Japan, the U.S. and a few other places, to get even richer.
In spite of being under a dictatorship, this proletariat has already waged major strike battles. The speed with which it will get involved in political life, i.e. become conscious of its political interests, is a decisive factor not only for the future of China but for that of the world.
In China, Brazil, India, Bangladesh or, closer to Europe, Turkey, in all so-called “emerging” countries where there is a strong, young and often combative proletariat, there is a need to transmit the experience and political capital accumulated by the proletariat of the world as a whole.
The development of the proletariat started in industrialized Western European countries. It is in those countries that the first great proletarian struggles took place and class consciousness emerged: the first proletarian struggles began in France during the development of the bourgeois revolution; the first groups that claimed adherence to the Communist ideal, the Chartists in England, mobilized thousands of workers in that vast political fight; the first strictly proletarian political fights took place in the revolutionary wave from 184849 in Germany, Austria and particularly in France, with the Paris Commune; the economic and social upheaval in Germany with the lightning fast development of a powerful workers party, the social-democrat party. In a region peripheral to Europe, in Russia, a budding proletariat took up the baton of the Western European workers' movement, using its own experience to take a further step, including the revolutionary explosion of 1905, with the creation of the soviets, the form of workers' organization that heralded the concrete form that would be taken by the first durable workers state that emerged from the revolutionary takeover by the workers in 1917.
Revolutionary communist Marxism was the theoretical expression of all these struggles, of the development of class consciousness where each revolutionary uprising could use the experience of the previous one, even if it was in a different country.
Due to history and economic development, a conscious workers' movement developed first in Europe and it is also there that Marx, Engels, Bebel, Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky and many others formulated revolutionary communist ideas and enriched them with experience from proletarian struggles. They did not limit themselves to a specific European country because, from the English proletariat to the Russian proletariat by way of the French and German proletariat, when one of them had exhausted its revolutionary energy or creativity, when the fire dimmed in one country, sooner or later the flames would reappear elsewhere. Its history was not linear; in the fight against the bourgeoisie, the working class encountered both success and failure, setbacks and repression. Worse still, when World War I broke out, the working class was betrayed by its very own organizations. It always overcame its failures. Even the great betrayal of the Second International at the start of World War I did not stop the transmission of the ideas and practices of the revolutionary workers' movement. When social democracy fell, communism took over. World War I began during the fiasco of the organizations in the Second International and ended with the Russian Revolution, followed by a revolutionary wave that touched the whole of Europe and created the Third International.
It is this continuity, this transmission of proletarian class struggle experience from generation to generation and from country to country, this continual development of class consciousness, that was broken by Stalinism. In this betrayal lies the worst damage done by Stalinism, destroying the revolutionary leadership of the proletariat.
It is the main reason that revolution has been delayed in its fight against the capitalist bourgeoisie. The reign of the bourgeoisie has been anachronistic for a long time, ever since the emergence of imperialism, the “senile stage of capitalism” of which Lenin spoke. It was almost carried off by the revolutionary wave that came just after World War I, but it survived. Humanity would pay for the survival of capitalism with Nazism and World War II.
The proletarian leadership crisis has taken over as the decisive factor in the revolution’s delay. Humanity continues to pay the price with the current growth of barbarity. But the working class continues to be the base for the functioning of the economy and continues to grow numerically.
It is perhaps the development of the working class in China that exemplifies the problem of the proletariat worldwide. The class contradictions that are tearing the country apart will inevitably push Chinese workers to fight. No one can predict what will happen. But it may well be the reversal of the economic situation in China, with all the catastrophic consequences that this will have on a working class that is young and numerous, that will push it toward even greater struggles than the workers’ struggles in the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century. If this is the case, it will be essential that the Chinese proletariat is in touch with the past – the experience of their class sisters and brothers in England, France, Germany or Russia – and that the proletariat reaches the level of political consciousness needed to fight the bourgeoisie for power and develop the party that represents that consciousness. The forces that will destroy capitalist society are already in capitalist society itself and, sooner or later, it will be destroyed. History will inevitably follow its chosen path. But connecting with the experience of the past and finding class consciousness once again could save the proletariat from blundering in the dark and would avoid a great deal of human suffering.