“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx
Nov 1, 2016
The following article is a translation of a text adopted by Lutte Ouvrière’s Congress, which was published in their monthly journal, Lutte de Classe, issue # 180, December 2016-January 2017.
This text is devoted to the significant changes that have taken place since March.
The most significant aspects of the crisis in the capitalist economy today, which are linked to increased financialization with all its inherent dangers, have not really changed over the past nine months: the threat of a more serious repeat of the 2007-2008 financial crisis still exists and has grown even if it has not yet become a cataclysm.
We take nothing back from what we wrote in March on the fundamental reasons for financialization. The excessive growth of finance, which for a long time has accompanied the development of the crisis of the capitalist economy, is big capital’s way of adapting to the stagnation of markets.
This growth accelerated after the 2008 banking crisis. At that time, we said this: “The central banks of the imperialist powers – the U.S. Federal Reserve followed by the Bank of England, then the Bank of Japan, and finally the European Central Bank – have embarked on large money-creation operations to help the banks. These operations consisted in the purchase by the central banks, with the money they created, of bonds, credits, securities held by banks and various financial institutions….
“At the same time, central banks dropped their key interest rate – i.e., the rate at which private banks can borrow money from them – almost to zero. In other words the financial system can access fresh money almost free of charge and in unlimited quantities.”
We stressed that “what is being done everywhere is nothing but a modern variation on the good old money-printing technique.”
Not only has the flow of money from central banks into the economy not dried up in recent months, it has increased. According to the European Central Bank (ECB), the eurozone money supply rose in one year, between July 2015 and July 2016, by 523 billion euros (+ 4.9%), from 10.591 trillion euros to 11.114 trillion.
Since last summer, the ECB has not merely repurchased the debts of its member states, including the most rotten debts, but it has also been buying corporate debt, that is, bonds issued by corporations. Between June 8, 2016, the date when the ECB started making this type of purchase, and July 29, 2016, the ECB and the national central banks purchased 13.2 billion euros of debt, issuing into circulation the additional money required to do it.
“The central bankers were acclaimed as the saviors of the markets…. Reactive, inventive and often the only ones on board to prevent the global economy from sinking,” wrote Le Monde de l’Économie on October 9, 2016. It then asked, “But might not the remedy be worse than the sickness?” It revealed the fears of financiers when it cited the IMF, the international institution of the bourgeoisie, which spoke of “an alarming global surge in debt: in 2015, public and private debt in the world – excluding the financial sector – reached an unprecedented level, twice as high as the wealth created on Earth!”
The U.S. central bank (the Fed) seems to want to slow the money-printing frenzy by increasing the interest rate. But it periodically pushed back the deadline. The monetary authorities are well aware of the dangers of addiction to credit and indebtedness for an economy that is already highly dependent on them, but a brutal withdrawal could have catastrophic consequences.
As for the ECB, it is staying the course. It continues to pour considerable quantities of monetary instruments into the economy even though industrial production is in even worse shape in Europe than in the United States.
No matter how far back we look in the history of the current crisis of the capitalist economy, this policy of flooding the economy with supplementary monetary instruments has always been carried out, pretending that the goal was to incite companies to invest and hire. But no matter how far back we look in the history of the crisis, the money poured into the economy has never led to renewed productive investment. It has been appropriated by the financial system to maintain the profits of big business. The major industrial and financial groups have used these profits to increase the dividends of their shareholders and, at times, to buy each other out.
In no imperialist country has investment returned to pre-2008 levels. The few sectors that experienced any rebound in production were only able to do so by over-exploiting their workers, by making fewer workers do more work for lower pay and more precarious job-situation.
In France, for example, the volume of industrial production is down by some 13% compared to 2007, the year before the crisis.
The decline has been comparable in Germany and Spain and has reached -20% in Italy.
From a different, but equally significant angle, the capacity utilization rate is down. In France, in 2016, the rate is 80.8%, whereas for the period 1976-2015 the average rate was 84.5% – that is to say, over four decades during which the world was affected by a sometimes creeping, sometimes explosive crisis.
Even in the large so-called emerging countries (China, India, Brazil, South Africa, etc.), upheld for quite some time as being able to pull the worldwide capitalist economy out of stagnation, investment rates have been falling.
The financial sphere continues to inflate, at the expense of production, by siphoning off the surplus-value generated by the latter.
The U.S. economist Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel prize-winner and more or less alter-globalist, notes that the Eurozone’s gross domestic product (GDP) “has been stagnating for nearly a decade now. In 2015 it was only 0.6% above its 2007 level.” It is important to remember that GDP is a more vague and broader concept than the production of goods and services, because it includes the creation of speculative “values.”
Stiglitz also notes that “the recessions that some Eurozone countries are going through are similar to or even worse than the Great Depression.”
“The dramatic slowdown in the growth of world trade is serious and should serve as a wake-up call,” declared the Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) at the beginning of September 2016. This slowdown reflects not only the stagnation of production but also the rise of protectionism. The French business paper Les Échos emphasized “the trend over the last two years toward putting up trade barriers that are contrary to commitments...,” adding “some countries are tempted to limit their imports to favor domestic production and depreciate their currency for this purpose....”
Exactly a hundred years have passed since, in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Lenin noted the absolute dictatorship exercised over society by the “financial oligarchy” at the head of powerful monopolies, which have simultaneous control over both the large production companies and the banks, which are more and more interlinked.
The weight of the oligarchy, which sits at the apex of the grand bourgeoisie, has increased despite or, to be more exact, thanks to the current crisis. Its riches have also increased, in both absolute and relative terms in proportion to the rest of the bourgeoisie. This evolution is occurring within a more general one that reflects quite clearly the class war that the bourgeoisie is waging against the working class in order to increase the average rate of profit. This is expressed in the decrease from one year to the next of the proportion of wages in the national income compared to the proportion of capital income.
Financialization gives this financial oligarchy additional means by which to trap the world in its nets and to extend its parasitic grasp on the economy to an unprecedented degree.
This parasitism not only translates into quantitative terms, that is to say, by the increase in the share that finance takes away from the overall surplus-value generated in production; it also constantly modifies the functioning of the financial system and its links with production.
The misadventures of Deutsche Bank reflect both the current evolution of the banking system and the threat of a serious financial crisis, which this evolution contains.
Deutsche Bank is the leading private bank in Germany. Its balance sheet is about the same as the GDP of Italy. Clearly it is one of the giants of the banking sector on a world scale. Its fall would have a domino effect with incalculable consequences for all banks in Europe and, through them, for the worldwide banking system, consequences of even greater magnitude than the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in 2008.
Deutsche Bank was created nearly a century and a half ago to finance industrial development. It essentially retained this role until relatively recently, before being drawn into the dance of financial transactions.
According to Le Monde (October 1, 2016), Deutsche Bank has become “one of the most risky financial groups in the world”; its capital is constituted by “its huge portfolio of risk assets” – the ‘financial derivatives’ which brought about the crisis in 2007 and about which no one can be sure that the bank’s evaluation is correct. The newspaper added that “the markets have been aware of this explosive situation for a long time ....”
In other words, no one, not even the bank’s managers, know how much real capital it holds. And yet, Deutsche Bank is one of the banks which are considered by the political leaders of the bourgeoisie and their economic advisors as being “too big to fail,” i.e. their bankruptcy could lead to a chain of bankruptcies and a total collapse of the global financial system.
No one knows whether the remedies – i.e. intensive money-printing and the offering of unlimited liquidities to the largest banks, applied to overcome the financial crisis of 2008 – will stop the financial crisis which looms.
But the mechanism by which a new serious crisis could occur is predictable from the very fact of the 2008 crisis.
The functioning of the global financial system in the capitalist economy, particularly the relationship between banks, is based to a large extent on trust.
In 2008, we saw how rapidly this loss of confidence manifested itself in a slowing down or even a halt of the transfer of capital from one bank to another, once the major banks lost confidence in the financial securities held by one another. The daily movements on the interbank market or the currency market add up to hundreds of billions of dollars. They are “the bloodstream” of the system.
For now, this loss of confidence mostly affects Deutsche Bank whose shares have lost half of their value since the start of the year. But a second big German bank, Commerzbank, is also affected. Italian banks are overwhelmed by bad debts. The threat of bankruptcy weighing on the Italian bank Monte dei Paschi di Sienna (MPS) may appear, given the size of the bank, to be negligible compared to the situation of Deutsche Bank. It is nonetheless symbolic because it is the oldest bank in the world, a bank created in the fifteenth century and which has therefore passed through all the vicissitudes of capitalism, from its emergence to its current senility.
The fear of a series of collapses is all the more present because the IMF itself estimates that the stock of bad debt held by the European banking system is around 900 billion dollars. It is worth pointing out that the total state revenue in France in 2016 represented 388 billion euros, i.e. 422 billion dollars.
The tremors which are shaking the world of finance more and more frequently and more and more seriously clearly show that the bail-out of the banking system in 2008 did not and could not solve the fundamental problem, that of the economic crisis itself; it has merely amplified its financial scope.
The 2007-2008 financial crisis already took not only the political leaders of the bourgeois world completely by surprise but also the world of finance.
The start of the financial crisis was a series of improvisations that exemplify the panic of all those who had some weight in the working of the financial system: high-ranking bankers, ministers, secretaries of state, heads of state and government. They went from denying reality to making contradictory improvisations from one country to the next when the first banks had to suspend their activities in 2007. American leaders chose to let one of the biggest banks of the time, Lehman Brothers, collapse. The leaders of the very free-market English financial system preferred to resort to the nationalization of the Northern Rock bank, which was eighth largest in the country and whose clients, completely panicked, withdrew in two days the equivalent of three billion euros in deposits.
In the end, the central banks threw open the credit floodgates and this prevented panic from spreading.
Despite all the regulations that have since been instigated, the next crisis will come as even more of a surprise to all these people because the financial system is in a continual state of change.
Bertrand Badré was successively inspector of public finance, banker at Lazard, economic advisor to the French government, and finally chief financial officer of the world bank. In his work “Money honnie” (Contemptible Money), he writes that one of the “major consequences of the crisis is the transformation of a world dominated by the banks into a world where the investor is king: pension funds, insurance companies, sovereign funds and other asset managers are now predominant in the international financial system. They will soon be managing close to 100 trillion dollars.” And he goes on to add: “How can the stability of the international financial system be maintained when the influence of these new investors is greater than that of the banks, when they are even more concentrated and they are linked together to an even greater degree? … There are about twenty giant companies in the world managing assets today, like BlackRock (number one with nearly five trillion dollars in assets), or like Amundi or Natixis in France (which both manage about one trillion dollars).”
The few sentences with which the banker-economist answers his question are as soothing as they are meaningless.
His panic-stricken analysis is however fundamentally flawed: the banking system, which is vaguely regulated, and the financial market, which is dominated by investment funds, represent only two expressions of the same financial capital. Deutsche Bank shows how a well-behaved business bank can transform itself into an agency dealing in speculation. And behind the numerous techniques for drawing on financial profit is the same financial oligarchy, right down to exactly the same high-ranking officials – Deutsche Bank poached several senior managers from Goldman Sachs in order to achieve its move into speculative operations.
The big speculative funds operate with huge amounts of capital from rich individuals and, even more so, from financial and industrial groups of diverse backgrounds. It is one step further toward the “socialization of big capital.” But this form of socialization is based on private property. It accentuates the fundamental contradiction of monopoly capitalism, which upholds free-market capitalism while becoming its opposite. It does not reduce competition between the different players. On the contrary, as Lenin explains in Imperialism, Highest Stage of Capitalism, “monopolies… do not eliminate free competition, but exist above it and alongside it, causing contradictions, frictions and particularly acute and violent conflicts.”
The multiplication of mergers and acquisitions is evidence of this. Ever more outrageous sums of money are being mobilized in fights where one financial and industrial group is trying to grab another. Just in the last few months (September-October), GMO giant Monsanto was taken over by chemical giant, Bayer for a total of 34 billion dollars. The amounts at stake range from 10 to 40 billion dollars. AT&T, American leader in telecommunications bought out Time Warner (CNN, TV channels, HBO, movie studios) for an even bigger sum: 110 billion dollars! Several other operations of the same type affect broadband service providers, semi-conductors and transport by container ships.
These groups possess more and more money that they have no intention of investing in production. The low cost of credit is still whetting appetites. The richest groups are getting deeper into debt in order to absorb others. The financial snake is pretty much eating its own tail.
The crisis intensifies competition, i.e. the economic war that the big financial and industrial groups are waging on one another. It is also during a crisis that the balance of power between these groups comes in question, as well as between the imperialist powers. In the same way that the emergence of monopolies has not put an end to competition, globalization under imperialism is not putting an end to the economic war between imperialist powers.
Policies that are supposed to develop the competitiveness of companies, first and foremost, exemplify the war being waged by the bourgeoisie on the working class across the globe. The aim of this war is to increase surplus value by reducing the part going to wages or, more generally, to the living conditions of the proletariat.
But it also exemplifies the war between the different bourgeoisies. Speeches that portray the increase of competitiveness of an industrial group or of a country as a means to beat the crisis are lies.
The competitiveness of one company, of one corporate group, or of one country has no effect on the crisis itself. It only has consequences on the balance of power between those competing.
When the politicians of the bourgeoisie present this or that country as being successful, it is not because it has overcome the crisis within its own borders, but simply that it has managed, briefly, to play its cards right in the context of stagnation, to the detriment of other countries.
In the economic war the different European bourgeoisies are competing amongst themselves and do not have a unified state apparatus like the American bourgeoisie.
The globalization of the economy has not caused the importance of the state apparatus to disappear. On the contrary, it has widened the arena of international competition where their role is most necessary.
In the intensification of the economic war, the European bourgeoisies are paying the price of their historic inability to create a state apparatus on the scale of the European market. The European Union remains essentially a common market and as such gives as many advantages to the financial and industrial groups of the United States as to those of Europe.
Among other things, the imperialist era is characterized by the dominance of the most powerful trusts over the state.
In economic war, the power of financial and industrial companies is inseparable from diplomacy, the military strength of their state and their political and economic spying. The story of Merkel’s private phones being tapped by America’s NSA is not just an anecdote.
If the big American bourgeoisie can count on its state apparatus in all these areas, each European bourgeoisie can count only on its national state apparatus which moreover has to compete with its counterparts in the European Union, including those within the eurozone.
In this economic war, the European Union is continually on the defensive and it is not very effective; mainly against American imperialism but also to a certain degree against other countries such as China.
There are ridiculous outcries from all kinds of reformists and nationalists, from Jean-Luc Mélenchon on the left to the far right, against TAFTA, the Trans-Atlantic Trade Agreement between the European Union and the United States, or CETA, its equivalent with Canada. These treaties are simply official recognition of the balance of power between capitalist sharks of different countries.
Also ridiculous are those who pretend, demagogically that France – or Great Britain – is suffering from “too much Europe” while one of the main weaknesses of the European bourgeoisies in the field of the capitalist economy is their inability to build a state apparatus on the scale of the European economy.
More generally, those who among the nationalists are advocating withdrawal behind national borders – be they from the right or from the left – imply that it is possible to reverse centuries of capitalist development which have made the global economy a whole. This is plain stupidity.
Globalization certainly is, together with the frantic pace of economic development during the youth and adult age of capitalism, the most important thing that the capitalist relationships of production have brought to the flourishing of humanity. That is exactly what makes a superior social organization possible, superior to the current one which is based on private property. Under capitalism, globalization has led to imperialism, colonization, the division of the world among monopolies, various forms of national oppression, conflicts and wars. But the future of humanity is not through an impossible return to the stone age but through the overthrow of capitalism.
There is a tight mutual dependence between the crisis of the capitalist economy which is intensifying rivalries and the increasing tension in international relations.
This phenomenon does not limit itself to geographically limited areas such as the Middle East. It shows itself everywhere in a more or less visible way. The collapse of the price of raw materials pushes entire states into bankruptcy, from Venezuela to Nigeria with incalculable consequences for the life of the population. The multiplication and strengthening of armed gangs, internal wars and massacres from the Sudan to the Democratic Republic of Congo are linked to the jolts of speculation on raw materials. Many documentaries show the dependency of ultramodern factories, where state-of-the-art smartphones are assembled, on the human “moles” digging for coltan or cobalt in Africa, using methods like those at the dawn of the metal industry.
And even behind the violent confrontations between bands of poachers whose activity threatens the rhinoceros or elephant with extinction, there are economic chains that tie the nouveaux riche from South East Asia, whose wealth does not save them from the stupidity of using tusk or horn powder, and African villagers driven to poaching in order to save their families from dying of hunger.
The interdependence of the different aspects of the crisis of the capitalist economy with the increasing tensions between states or even inside some of them, is dialectical. Political, or even military tensions influence the movement of capital and its investments.
International relations are affected by increasing instability. The sources are numerous.
Here we will not go back in detail to the Middle East, which is torn by internal conflicts as well as conflicts between states.
It must be underlined how quickly the destabilization of Iraq and of Syria touched not only the great powers with ambition in the region – from the United States to France to Russia – but also directly affected Turkey, if only by raising the Kurd question again, for example.
To different degrees, several countries in the region have been involved in the war, from countries of the Arabian peninsula to Iran.
For their part, terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States are consequences of the war in the Middle East.
Within the war against ISIS are several other wars between pretended allies. There is for example the war of the Turkish army against some of the Kurds while joining forces with others, or the war between the different Shiite or Sunni militias. Even if ISIS is defeated in the end, other wars will go on involving the different militias supported by rival powers, or even these rival powers themselves: Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Iraq and Syria.
Even if the United States, along with minor great powers like France as its sidekick, are allied with Russia against ISIS, the numerous developments of this war show an increasing tension between the United States and Russia.
The United States is happy to let Putin do his share of the dirty work in Syria, a country which has been plunged into bloody chaos with Western plots to oust Bashir el-Assad. The risk of ISIS presenting itself as the only alternative to Assad led the United States to agree that Putin should clean up the situation, that is, bury all opposition to the dictator of Damascus under a pile of ruins and corpses. The imperialist powers’ outrage in the face of the bombing of Aleppo is sheer hypocrisy. It however shows that tensions between the United States and Russia are increasing even where the two powers are said to be allied against ISIS.
In Europe, the question of Ukraine has brought about a climate of cold war between the United States and Russia, a low-key echo of the cold war carried out by the United States and its allies against the Soviet Union.
The renewed military tension between Russia and Ukraine is useful to both sides. Using the external threats coming from the West via Ukraine, the Kremlin was hoping to rally the population around the government, particularly before the legislative elections of this past fall. The operation was a success: Putin’s party got an overwhelming majority in the Duma.
As for the Ukrainian nationalist leaders, their interest was to pose as victims of the Russian aggressor. Their goal was to have people forget about the miserable conditions. They wanted to force their West European and North American protectors to help Kiev, even though these protectors were reluctant to give military or financial help to Ukraine, which was perpetually on the verge of bankruptcy, and whose government has been plagued by corruption. Political and Mafia-like clans compete for power in Ukraine, creating a chronic instability in the shadow of a decadent state.
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine is magnified by the U.S., which has sought to use NATO, as well as the former Baltic republics and Poland, to push back Russian influence within the states of the former Soviet Union.
Tensions may be most visible in these regions, but the world is awash in conflict. A scientific institution linked to a Swedish university, the Conflict Data Program, concluded that, “armed conflicts are back to new record levels since the end of the cold war, with 2014 even being, from this point of view, the second most deadly year worldwide since World War II.”
The Sahel remains a powder keg despite a triumphant rhetoric from the French government about how effective its intervention has been in Mali.
From the horn of Africa to the Congo (former Zaire), including Sudan, more or less violent conflicts are still lingering on.
Yemen is torn apart by a civil war in which a coalition led by Saudi Arabia is involved, with the United States in the shadow.
Important strategic maneuvers are opposing the United States to China for control of the South China sea.
State apparatuses are fractured and sometimes completely disintegrated in several African countries. In Somalia, there has not been a centralized state for several years. Libya has gradually arrived at the same point.
Even the split-up of the former Sudan – with the northern part keeping the name and the flag, and the southern part creating a new state – has not stabilized the situation. South Sudan, at war against the North for oil revenues, is in turn torn to pieces by civil war.
Mali and the Central African Republic are holding together as unified states – to the extent that they are – only because French imperialist troops are there, with French imperialism keeping its role of police force for West Africa.
As for the Democratic Republic of Congo, the former Zaire, the central state has to come to terms with numerous armed gangs. The people of this country are still paying for the confrontations between the armed gangs with hundreds of thousands of deaths, but the exploitation of rare metals and above all the exploitation of those who are digging them continue as if nothing were happening, delivering the greatest benefits to the mining or mobile phone corporations.
The crisis of the capitalist economy and the inability of the governments of the imperialist powers to deal with it are ultimately the basis of the more or less accentuated crisis of the bourgeois democracies, even in the richest countries.
That a fool billionaire can put himself forward to lead the most advanced capitalist nation is a symbol of how rotten political representation has become in bourgeois democracy.
In Europe, this crisis translates just about everywhere into the rise of the far right, so-called “populist” parties.
In France, just as in Spain or Italy, alternation between left and right, which used to be seen as the essence of parliamentary democracy, functions less and less.
For now, the far right or reaction may not appear in the form of fascist armed gangs seeking power in any of these countries. Nonetheless, the evolution of the situation is still profoundly negative for the working class in the short and long term.
It expresses the increasing disappearance of the memories left by former upsurges of the labor movement in political life and more generally in public life. At the same time it increases the weight of the most reactionary prejudices in all areas of public life.
The far-right movements, even if they remain for the time being within the framework of the bourgeois parliamentary system, contain groups within them whose purpose is the obliteration of everything that remains from the workers’ movement, and by the same token, from bourgeois parliamentary democracy.
When this society dominated by crisis truly sets in motion the different groups in the population who are suffering from it, this will intensify the class struggle. This presents two diametrically opposed possible evolutions: a renewal of working-class fighting spirit on the basis of the transformation of society, or a relapse which would be characterized by new forms of authoritarian or fascist regimes.
Prior to today’s crisis, the biggest crisis of capitalism, which started with the crash of 1929, led to Nazism in Germany, to the multiplication of semi-fascist or authoritarian regimes just about everywhere in Europe, finally to end in World War II.
Thanks in particular to the collaboration of the Stalinist bureaucracy, the bourgeoisie got out of the world war while avoiding a new proletarian revolutionary wave comparable to that which followed World War I.
“Never again!” proclaimed bourgeois ideologists in the aftermath of the war. For the European bourgeoisie, the reconciliation between a defeated Germany and the victorious imperialist powers seemed to be the guarantee of this ambition, which took shape in the “European constitution.”
Today it is notable to see to what extent the European Union – this caricature of European unification – has been linked to the situation of relative recovery of the capitalist economy that lasted for a few years. But at least since the 2007-2008 financial crisis, even this semblance of unification has cracks.
From the Euro crisis to Brexit and including the European imperialist powers’ diktat to Greece, European unity is disintegrating under the centrifugal forces of capitalist national interests.
It is useless to speculate about the way the European bourgeoisie will overcome the consequences of Brexit, which is likely to be harmful for some of their business ventures. If the big bourgeoisie of Great Britain find it necessary, their politicians will find the judicial or constitutional trick to maneuver around the referendum result. If not, the negotiations between the European Commission and the British government will be aimed at finding an agreement protecting what the bourgeoisies on the two sides of the Channel deem important.
Meanwhile, it is worth noting that Brexit has intensified the competition between London’s role as a financial center and Frankfurt and Paris, which would like to replace it.
We must underline the reactionary absurdity of diverse movements, including some claiming to be Trotskyists, who presented Brexit as a step forward from the point of view of the interests of the working class.
The misfortunes of the European Union which may contribute to its disappearance or its division into several entities show in any case that the European bourgeoisie is absolutely unable to unify Europe even if unification is vital.
Even worse, there is no reason that the centrifugal forces of the European bourgeoisies’ contradictory interests will limit themselves to a simple skip backward nor that the decay will stop there. From Catalonia to Scotland, without forgetting the extreme nationalist forces at work in Eastern and Central Europe, one can imagine many situations leading to further national disintegration.
It should not be necessary here to state again how despicable from the mere point of view of humanity is the fate of migrants in this capitalist society. But this needs to be said: the imperialist countries bear the main responsibility for this migration, either because they plunder the countries of origin or because the great powers’ twisted maneuvers lead to wars. This responsibility makes their attitude toward migrants even more disgusting.
Migration is not a problem in itself since it has been a part of the entire history of humanity. Since the appearance of humankind, the entire history of humanity has been made up of migrations and the mixture of populations.
To depict migration as a problem is a clear sign that the bourgeoisie’s reign and the capitalist order have become the main reactionary factors in society.
It is significant that the different positions taken about the admittance of migrants led to the most recent conflicts tearing apart European unity.
It is not by mere chance that the Eastern European countries are at the front of the reactionary evolution, with respect to their attitude toward the migrants as well as in many other areas.
Hungary was the first to erect barbed wires on its borders to prevent the passage of migrants coming via the Balkans. A pathetic political evolution for a country which was the first to remove the barbed wires that separated the so-called Soviet bloc from the Western bloc!
For its part, the Polish government was the first to try to overturn the few rights Polish women still had over control of their bodies after the collapse of the Eastern bloc, in an attempt to completely forbid abortion. Women’s mobilization – and more widely, the mobilization of the population – prevented the government from carrying out its project.
The entire “Visegrad group,” which includes Slovakia and the Czech Republic besides Poland and Hungary, distinguish themselves on the European political scene by particularly reactionary positions in a variety of areas.
In this Central Europe, the pathetic bourgeoisie composed of “parvenus” and their politicians are trying to hide away their dependence on big Western capital by posing as champions of “the Christian West and its values,” by encouraging chauvinism, and territorial claims in an area where peoples are often intertwined.
Remember that during the great crisis of the inter-war period, the Eastern countries’ evolution toward authoritarian regimes foretold the future in a certain manner for the Western part of Europe, that part which was richer and which claimed to be more civilized!
In 1939, in Marxism in Our Time, Trotsky stated, “Notwithstanding the latest triumphs of technical thought, the material productive forces are no longer growing. The clearest and most faultless symptom of the decline is the world stagnation of the construction industry, in consequence of the stoppage of new investments in the basic branches of economy. Capitalists are simply no longer able to believe in the future of their own system.”
While the bourgeoisie was engaged in fascism or in the New Deal and was preparing to plunge humanity into a new war, he concluded: “Partial reforms and patchwork will do no good. Historical development has come to one of those decisive stages when only the direct intervention of the masses is able to sweep away the reactionary obstructions and lay the foundations of a new regime. Abolition of private ownership in the means of production is the first prerequisite to planned economy, i.e., the introduction of reason into the sphere of human relations, first on a national and eventually on a world scale.”
A few months after this was written, the world was drowned in the cataclysm of the second world war. With a proletarian revolution avoided in the aftermath of that war, the capitalist system underwent a few years of economic growth that seemed to contradict Trotsky’s forecasts.
But today it is obvious that those years were only a remission and that capitalism leads humanity toward the abyss.
Nonetheless, never during its history has humanity had as many means at its disposal to meet the necessity of its collective life. But the division of humanity into social classes with opposing interests prevents it from controlling its collective life.
Never has there been such an enormous gap between a humanity able to explore the edges of the universe and a society which is consumed with wars between countries, between nationalities, between ethnic groups and between villages.
Never have people been linked in such a common destiny as today under capitalist globalization. But never has humanity been more divided.
Humanity never had more cultural and material means to definitely defeat the various forms of prejudice and mysticism, which are the centuries-long legacy of the division of society between classes and of oppression. However, never has religion and mysticism come back with such striking force into the life of society.
What more disgusting expression of decaying capitalism can there be than the deadly attraction of Islamic terrorism for a part of the youth?
In summation, the material and technical conditions exist for unifying human society in a fraternal entity on the scale of the earth. But at the same time this has never seemed more remote.
The big contribution of Marxism to the workers’ movement was not only the denunciation of capitalism and the acknowledgment that it had stopped making humanity advance. Its big contribution was to give the means to break the chains: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it,” as Marx said as early as 1845.
Marxism was not content to see in this new class, which was the modern proletariat, a suffering class. It saw in it a social class able to overthrow capitalism.
Marx, Engels and their generation believed that the end of capitalism would be closer. They were optimistic, as revolutionaries are.
History in general, and more specifically the history of the working class movement, with its huge steps forward but also its dramatic steps backward, resulted in capitalism surviving much longer than Marx, Engels and their comrades expected.
It even survived longer than Trotsky expected, one century later when he insisted that capitalism was no longer able to make the productive forces progress.
Since Marx’s time, humanity has experienced a large number of economic crises, many forms of oppression, various types of authoritarian regimes, a lot of local wars and two world wars.
Up to now, it is more in a negative way that history has confirmed Marx’s analyses. But the proletariat is not an invention of the mind, even if the mind of a genius of Marx’s scope who saw in the proletariat the social force able to change the future of humanity. The proletariat is a social reality. Robots have not replaced the proletariat. And, despite the growing possibilities provided by science and technology, our society is that of human beings.
The class of the exploited, the proletariat, is much more diversified than during Marx’s time and even than during the time of Lenin and the Russian Revolution. The bourgeoisie learned to play on this diversity – opposing the various categories of wage workers, one against the other – to fight against class consciousness and the rise of national and international organizations which embodied this consciousness. But the working class is much more numerous than in the past and exists everywhere in the world.
The class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is waged on a much larger scale than during past periods when the proletariat put itself forward to rule society.
From China to Bangladesh, in a big number of countries where the industrial proletariat is young and its fate miserable, the class struggle takes as massive and virulent features as when the modern proletariat came into existence in Western Europe.
But this struggle is permanent also in the big industrialized countries, even if under the form of daily reactions that workers are able to oppose to the worsening of exploitation and to the many expressions of the bosses’ arbitrariness.
The ideas of the class struggle are likely to fall in a ground as fertile as in the time of Marx or of Lenin, for the simple reason that they correspond to a reality that the workers experience every day. They have yet to be expressed and the vast political capital accumulated by revolutionary Marxism through the struggles of generations of workers has yet to be transmitted.
This should be the role of revolutionary communist organizations – it is the only justification for their existence – so that each important struggle of the working class takes advantage of the experiences of previous struggles.
This is indeed the basic problem in our days, as Trotsky expressed it with those words in The Transitional Program: “The world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat.”
The conviction that humanity would resume its march forward – once it got rid of the chains of capitalism – united generations of revolutionary communists, from Marx to Trotsky, not to mention Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, and so many others. And they all shared in the conviction that the proletariat is the only force able to achieve this essential historic transformation.
Marxism has always been and remains today the only scientific approach to understand the functioning of society and its mechanisms, the only approach that allows us not only to understand the world but also to transform it. Marxism remains the only humanism of our epoch.
In our last Congress, last March, we summarized the tasks of our generation of revolutionaries with these words: “It will be up to future generations to re-establish ties with the traditions of revolutionary communism, with its past struggles and experiences. Everywhere the problem is posed of reconstructing revolutionary communist parties. And this question is linked to the rebirth of a revolutionary communist international.
“No one can tell how and through what channels, revolutionary communist ideas will be able to reach the working class, the social class they were meant for since the time of Marx and then Lenin and Trotsky. Today still, only this class can take up these ideas and transform them into a social explosion that will do away with capitalism.”
The need remains the same as when Trotsky wrote The Transitional Program. Our tasks flow from it.