The conditions for a resurgence of class struggle are developing
Two and a half years after the collapse of the Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe and the USSR, the world situation continues to be determined to a large degree by this historic event. In particular, it has proved an unprecedented aggravating factor in the decomposition of capitalism, especially on the level of imperialist antagonisms, which are increasingly marked by the chaos which springs from it. However, the economic crisis of the capitalist mode of production, which is worsening sharply as we write, and first and foremost in the capitalist metropoles, is tending to return to centre stage. By destroying the illusions in the "superiority of capitalism" poured out since the collapse of Stalinism, by highlighting more and more the system's utter lack of perspective, and by forcing the working class to mobilize to defend its economic interests against the increasingly brutal attacks unleashed by the bourgeoisie, the crisis constitutes a powerful factor in allowing the working class to overcome the difficulties it has encountered since the collapse of the Eastern bloc.
1) The invasion of the whole life of capitalism by the phenomenon of decomposition is a process going back to the beginning of the 1980s, and even to the end of the 1970s (for example, the convulsions in Iran which led to the formation of an "Islamic" republic and the loss of control over this country by its bloc overlord, the USA). The death agony of the Stalinist regimes, their final demise, and the collapse of the imperialist bloc dominated by the USSR are expressions of this process. But at the same time, these immense historic events have seriously accelerated it. This is why we can say that these events mark capitalism's entry into a new phase of its decadence - the phase of decomposition - in the same way that World War I was the first great convulsion of the system's entry into its decadence, and was enormously to amplify the different expressions of this decadence.
Thus, the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe marks the opening of a period of catastrophic convulsions in the countries they once ruled. But the characteristics of the new period, and chaos especially, take form still more at the level of worldwide imperialist antagonisms. Chaos is the best way to describe the present situation of imperialist relations between states.
2) The Gulf War in early 1991 was the first large-scale sign of this new "state of affairs":
* it was a result of the disappearance of the Eastern bloc, and of the first signs of its inevitable consequence: the disappearance of the Western bloc as well;
* the world's greatest power undertook a massive campaign in order to limit this phenomenon, by forcing its erstwhile allies (and primarily, Germany, Japan, and France) to show their "solidarity" under its own leadership, against the world's destabilization;
* the barbaric bloodletting it provoked has given an example of what the rest of humanity can expect henceforward;
* despite the huge resources set in motion, this war has only slowed, but certainly not reversed, the major tendencies at work since the disappearance of the Russian bloc: the dislocation of the Western bloc, the first steps towards the formation of a new imperialist bloc led by Germany, the increasing chaos in international relations.
3) The barbaric war unleashed in Yugoslavia only a few months after the end of the Gulf War is a striking and irrefutable illustration of this last point. In particular, although the events which triggered this barbarity (the declarations of independence by Slovenia and Croatia) are themselves an expression of chaos and the sharpening of nationalism which characterize all the regions previously under Stalinist control, they could never have happened had these nations not been assured of support from Germany, the greatest power in Europe. The German bourgeoisie's diplomatic maneuvering in the Balkans (much more than its indiscipline during the Gulf crisis, as evidenced by Brandt's voyage to Baghdad with Kohl's blessing), was aimed at opening up a strategic outlet to the Mediterranean through an "independent" Croatia under its control, and was its first decisive act as candidate to the leadership of a new imperialist bloc.
4) For the moment, the
USA's enormous military superiority, which was spectacularly and murderously
demonstrated during the Gulf War, will obviously force the German bourgeoisie
to keep a tight rein on its ambitions. Still on the leash on the diplomatic and
military level (treaties forbidding military intervention outside its
frontiers, the presence of US troops on its territory), without nuclear weapons
or a high-grade armaments industry, Germany is still only at the beginning of a
road which could lead it to take the head of a new imperialist bloc. Moreover,
as we have seen in Yugoslavia, Germany's pushing its own new ambitions can only
destabilize the situation in Eastern Europe still further, and so aggravate the
chaos in that part of the world. Given its geographical position, this region
is a huge threat for Germany (notably in the form of massive immigration), even
more than for the other major Western powers. It is largely for this reason
that Germany continues to take part in NATO. As it made clear at its last
summit, NATO's objective is no longer to confront a Russian imperialism in
total disarray, but to provide a shield against the convulsions in Eastern Europe.
Germany's need to remain faithful to NATO can
only limit its room for maneuver in relation to the US which dominates the alliance.
5) Lastly, to attain the status of a world power, Germany needs top flight allies in Western Europe, and this for the moment has come up against some substantial obstacles. Within the EEC, it cannot count at all on Great Britain (the USA's most faithful ally), nor on Holland (whose very close economic links with its neighbor incite it precisely to turn to Britain and the USA to avoid becoming a mere German province). Of all the great European countries, France is the most interested in closer links with Germany, given that it cannot take the place of the USA's favored lieutenant in Europe, since a common language and above all geography have definitively attributed this position to Britain. However, the Franco-German alliance cannot be as solid as that uniting the two Anglo-Saxon powers, in that:
* the two partners are looking for something different from the alliance (Germany aspiring to a dominant position, while France wants to maintain its equality, relying on its nuclear arsenal and its imperialist positions in Africa to compensate for its economic inferiority), which can lead to the adoption of divergent diplomatic positions, as we saw in the case of Yugoslavia;
* the US power has already made France pay dearly for its infidelity (France's eviction from the Lebanon, the support for Hissen Habre in Chad and support for the FIS in Algeria, etc).
6) Nonetheless, neither its enormous military backwardness, nor the obstacles that the US power will place in its way, nor the danger of worsening chaos, will turn Germany from the path down which it has started. As the capitalist crisis gets worse, so inevitably will imperialist tensions. The tendency for these tensions to end in a new division of the world into two imperialist blocs, Germany's economic power and its place in Europe, can only push it still further down the same path, which will constitute a further factor of instability in the world today.
More generally, although the threat of chaos may at times restrain the great powers from asserting their own imperialist interests, the dominant tendency is towards an exacerbation of these antagonisms, however disastrous this may be. In particular, the USA's determination, openly declared in the Gulf War, to play "world cop" can in the final analysis only lead to an increased use of military force and blackmail when faced with the threat of chaos - which will only make the latter worse (as we can see, for example, with the Kurdish problem in the post-war Middle East situation). Whatever attempts the great powers may make to improve matters; it is chaos which will increasingly dominate international relations: chaos will be at the origin and the conclusion of armed conflicts, and can only get worse with the inevitable aggravation of the crisis.
7) The open recession which has engulfed the world's greatest power for the last two years has tolled the knell of many illusions sown by the ruling class during most of the 1980's. The vaunted "Reaganomics" which allowed the longest ever period of continuous growth in those figures which supposedly express a country's wealth (such as GNP) stand revealed as a stunning failure, which has left the USA the world's most indebted country, and finding it increasingly difficult to finance its debt.
The state of the US economy is a clear sign of the catastrophic situation facing the whole world economy: $10 trillion of debt, a fall of 4.7% in investment during 1991 despite a historic low in interest rates, a 1992 budget deficit of $348 billion. Since the end of the 1960s, the world economy has only been able to confront the ineluctable contraction of solvent markets thanks to a headlong flight into debt. The serious world recession of 1974-75 was only overcome with a massive injection of credit to the "Third World" and the Eastern bloc, so that for a short period their purchases could get production going again in the industrialized countries. This rapidly led the debtor countries into effective bankruptcy. The recession of 1981-82, which was the inevitable result of this situation, was only surmounted by a new flood of debt, not in the peripheral countries this time but in the world's greatest power. The US trade deficit served as the new "locomotive" for world production, while: internal "growth" was stimulated by ever more colossal budget deficits. This is why the economic swamp in which the US bourgeoisie is struggling today is a serious danger for the whole world economy.
Henceforth, there are no "locomotives that capitalism can count on. Stifled by debt, it will less and less be able to escape, either worldwide or in individual countries, from the inevitable consequences of the crisis of overproduction: falling production, the scrapping of ever wider sectors of the productive apparatus, a drastic reduction in the labor force, strings of bankruptcies especially in the financial sector, alongside which those of the last few years will look like chickenfeed.
8) This perspective will not be altered in the slightest by the upheavals in the old self-styled "socialist" countries. In these countries, the measures of "liberalization" and privatization have only added utter disorganization and massive falls in production to the dilapidation and low productivity which lay at the heart of the Stalinist regimes' collapse. Already, or in the very short term, the population in some of these countries is threatened with famine. What most of these countries can expect, especially those emerging from the ex-USSR where inter-ethnic and nationalist conflicts can only make things worse, is a descent into the Third World. We have not had to wait even two years for the mirage of the miraculous "markets" opening up in the East to be swept away. These countries are already up to their necks in debt, and will not be able to buy much from the more developed countries. As for the latter, they are already confronted with an unprecedented cash flow crisis and will be sparing in pouring credits down what looks like a bottomless pit. There will be no "Marshall Plan" for the ex-Eastern bloc, no real reconstruction of their economies which would make it possible to relaunch production, by however little, in the most industrialized countries.
9) The increasing gravity of the world economic situation will mean unprecedented capitalist attacks against the working class in all countries. With the unleashing of trade wars and competition for ever more restricted markets, falling real wages and worsening working conditions (faster production lines, cutbacks in safety, etc) will be accompanied by a sharp drop in the social wage (education, health, pensions, etc) , and in the numbers of those in work. Unemployment, which has risen abruptly in 1991 (to 28 million in the OECD against 24.6 million in 1990) is going to exceed by far its worst levels of the early 80s. The working class can expect a sordid and unbearable poverty, not just in the less developed countries but in the richest ones as well. The fate of the workers in the ex -" socialist" countries is an indication for workers in the West of what they can expect. However, it would be quite wrong to "see in poverty nothing but poverty", as Marx put it in criticizing Proudhon. Despite, and indeed because of the terrible suffering that this will mean for the working class, the present and future aggravation of the capitalist crisis will bring with it the recovery of the class' combat and the advance of consciousness in the ranks of the working class.
10) It is paradoxical, but quite understandable and already foreseen by the ICC in the autumn of 1989, that the collapse of Stalinism, in other words of the spearhead of the counter-revolution that followed the post-World War I revolutionary wave, should have caused a serious retreat in the consciousness of the working class. This collapse allowed the ruling class to unleash an unprecedented series of campaigns on the theme of the "death of communism", "the victory of capitalism" and "democracy", which could only increase the disorientation of a great majority of workers as to the perspectives for their combats. Nonetheless, this event's impact on workers' combativity was limited, both in depth and duration, as we could see from the struggles of spring 1990 in various countries. By contrast, from the summer of 1990 onwards, the crisis and then the war in the Gulf developed a strong feeling of impotence within the working class of the advanced countries (which were all involved, directly or indirectly in the action of the "coalition"), and proved an important factor in paralyzing its activity: At the same time, these latest events laid bare the lies about the "new world order", and unveiled the criminal behavior of the "great democracies" and all the certified "defenders of human rights"; in doing so, they continued to soften the blow on workers' consciousness of the campaigns in the preceding period. This indeed is why the main fractions of the bourgeoisie were very careful to cover up their "exploits" in the Middle East with such a screen of lies, media campaigns, and fraudulent "humanitarian" operations, especially with regard to the Kurds whom they had themselves handed over for repression by Saddam Hussein's regime.
11) The last act in this series of events affecting conditions for the development of consciousness and combativity in the working class has been played out since summer 1991 with:
* the failed putsch in the USSR, the disappearance of its leading Party, and the country's disintegration;
* the civil war in Yugoslavia.
These two events have provoked a real reflux in the working class, both at the level of consciousness and of combativity. Although its impact has not been comparable to that exercised by the events of late 89, the collapse of the self-styled "communist" regime in the USSR and the disintegration of the country which saw the first victorious proletarian revolution, attacked still more profoundly the perspective of communism in the consciousness of the working masses. At the same time, new threats of catastrophic military confrontations, including nuclear conflicts, have emerged from this disintegration, and have only sharpened still further the feeling of impotent anxiety. Matters were made still worse by the civil war in Yugoslavia, a few hundred kilometers from the great working-class concentrations of Western Europe, where the workers could only look on as spectators at this absurd massacre, and leave it to the good offices of governments and international institutions (EEC, UN) to bring it to an end. Moreover, the temporary end to this conflict, with the dispatch by the great powers of their troops with a "mission of peace" under the aegis of the UN, has refurbished their image, which had been somewhat tarnished by the Gulf War.
12) The events in
Yugoslavia have highlighted the complexity of the links between war and the
development of proletarian consciousness. Historically, war has been a powerful
factor both in mobilizing the proletariat and in raising its consciousness. The
Paris Commune, the revolutions of 1905 and of 1917 in Russia, the 1918
revolution in Germany, were all the results of war. But at the same time, as
the ICC has pointed out, war does not create the most favorable conditions for
the extension of revolution on a world scale. In the same way, World War II has
shown that it would henceforth be illusory to expect a proletarian upsurge
during a generalized imperialist conflict, and that this on the contrary is
another factor plunging the working class further into the counter-revolution.
Nonetheless, imperialist war has not altogether lost its ability to point out
for workers the profoundly barbaric nature of decadent capitalism, the threat
it represents for the whole of humanity, the banditry of all those "men of
good will" who rule the bourgeois world, and the fact that the working
class is their principal victim. This is why the Gulf War acted in part as an
antidote to the ideological poison poured out during 1989. But for war to have
such a positive impact in the consciousness of the working masses, it is
necessary that the proletariat should be clearly
aware of what is at stake, which presupposes:
* that the workers are not enrolled en masse under the national flag (which is why all the different conflicts in the regions once ruled by Stalinism only serve to increase the disarray of the workers there); .
* that the responsibility for the barbarity and massacres should lie clearly at the door of the advanced countries, and not be hidden by local circumstances (ethnic conflicts, ancient hatreds), or by "humanitarian" operations (like the UN's "peace" missions).
In the coming period, we cannot expect any increase in class consciousness to spring from events like those in Yugoslavia or the Caucuses. By contrast; the need for the great powers to become more and more directly involved in military conflicts will be an important factor in developing workers' consciousness, especially in the decisive sectors of the proletariat which live in these countries.
13) More generally speaking, the various consequences of the historic dead-end in which the capitalist mode of production is stuck do not act in the same direction from the viewpoint of the development of consciousness throughout the working class. The specific characteristics of the decomposition period and of chaos will for the moment be a factor in increasing confusion within the working class. This is the case, for example, with the dramatic convulsions affecting the political apparatus of certain countries emerging from the so-called "real socialism", or in certain Muslim countries (with the rise of fundamentalism). In the more advanced countries, the various upheavals of the political apparatus, though of course they are on a much smaller scale and do not escape the control of the bourgeoisie's dominant forces (rise of xenophobic movements in France, Belgium, East Germany, electoral success for regional parties in Italy, and of the ecologists in France and Belgium), are effectively used to attack workers' consciousness. In reality, the only elements which act favorably on workers' consciousness are those which are characteristic of decadence as a whole, and not specific to its phase of decomposition: imperialist war, with the direct participation of the great capitalist powers, and the crisis of the capitalist economy.
14) Just as we must be able to distinguish how different aspects of the tragic dead-end in which society finds itself affect the development of consciousness throughout the working class, so it is necessary to ascertain the various ways in which this situation can affect the different sectors of the class. In particular, it should be clear, as the ICC has already pointed out at the beginning of the 80s, that the proletariat in the ex-"socialist" countries faces enormous difficulties in the development of its consciousness. Despite the terrible attacks it has already undergone, and which will only get worse, and despite even the large-scale struggles it has conducted against these attacks, this sector of the working class remains politically weak and a relatively easy prey for the demagogic maneuvers of bourgeois politicians. Only the experience and the example of workers' combats in the most advanced sectors of the class, especially in Western Europe, against the bourgeoisie's most sophisticated pitfalls, will make it possible for East European workers to take decisive steps forward' in developing their own consciousness.
15) In the same way, within the world working class as a whole, we must establish a clear distinction, in the way that the upheavals since 1989 have been perceived, between the great mass of the proletariat and the vanguard minorities. Whereas the former has suffered the full extent of the bourgeoisie's campaigns, to the point of turning away altogether from any perspective of overthrowing capitalism, the same events and campaigns have revived an interest for revolutionary positions on the part of small minorities which have refused to be taken in by the deafening barrage on the "death of communism". This is a new illustration of the fact that there is only one antidote to the despair, the disarray that different aspects of decomposition impose on the whole of society: the affirmation of the communist perspective. The recent growth in the audience for revolutionary positions is also a confirmation of the nature of the historic course, as it has developed since the end of the 1960s: a course towards class confrontations, not towards counter-revolution; a course which the events of the last few years have not been able to overturn, however bad they may have been for the consciousness of the majority of the proletariat.
16) And it is precisely because the historic course has not been overthrown, because the bourgeoisie despite all its campaigns has not succeeded in inflicting a decisive defeat on the proletariat in the advanced countries, and enrolling it under the national banner, that the class' retreat, both in consciousness and in combativity, must necessarily be overcome. Already, the worsening of the capitalist crisis, especially in the developed countries, is a prime factor in overturning all the lies about capitalism's "triumph". Similarly, the accumulation of discontent provoked by the intensification and proliferation of attacks as a result of the crisis will eventually open the way to large-scale movements, which will give the working class back its confidence, will remind the workers that they are a power in society and will make it possible for growing masses of workers to turn once more to the perspective of overthrowing capitalism. Obviously, it is still too early to see when such movements will break out. For the moment, workers struggles are at their lowest level since World War II. But we are certain, that in the depths are brewing the conditions for their resurgence: it is for revolutionaries to keep a constant watch; not to be taken by surprise by the upsurge of struggle when it comes; to be ready to intervene in it to put forward the communist perspective. ICC 29/03/92