Resolution on the international situation
The international situation in the year 2000 confirms the tendency, already analysed by the ICC at the beginning of the last decade, for a gap to open up between a growing open crisis of the decadent capitalist economy, and an abrupt acceleration of imperialist antagonisms on the one hand and a retreat in class struggle and class consciousness on the other.
Marxism has never claimed or expected th claimed or expected that there would be a mathematical connection between these phenomena that characterise the "epoch of wars and revolutions" (to use the Communist International's phrase); that X amount of crisis would always be equal to Y amount of class struggle. Its task instead is to understand the perspective of proletarian revolution by assessing the inherent tendencies of each of these three factors and their reciprocal action, where the economic factor is the determinant one in the last analysis.
The open crisis that began at the end of the 1960s brought to an end the post-Second World War reconstruction period. The class struggle re-emerged after 40 years of counter-revolution as a consequence of this crisis, with a perspective of decisive class confrontations with the bourgeoisie that would lead either to the communist revolution of the proletariat, or, as the Communist Manifesto put it, the "ruin of the contending classes" (through imperialist war or other catastrophes).
Marxism is not dismayed that this historical tendency towards class confrontations is not verified by the appearance of the relative passivity of the proletariat at the present time. It goes beneath the surface to fully understand social reality.
1) Capitalism's historic crisis is progressively exhausting the palliatives intended to overcome it. The Keynesian expansionist solution to the problems of the world economy ran out of steam at the end of the 70s. Neo-liberal austerity was mainly a creature of the 80s, although the ideology of globalisation after the collapse of the USSR extended its life span into the 90s. The latter half of this decade and the current period are characterised mostly however by the collapse of these economic models and their replacement by a pragmatic response to the inexorable deepening of the crisis that swings between overt state intervention and allowing the "sanction of the market".
State capitalism, the characteristic form of decadent capitalism has no intention of giving up its ability to phase in the economic crisis, but it cannot overcome it due to the insufficiency of solvent markets which results in a permanent crisis of overproduction.
2) New markets have failed to materialise. After the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the break-up of Stalinism, the world victory of western capitalism in 1989 has failed to open up unheard-of possibilities for selling its products, as promised by the architects of the new world order.
The eastern European countries have failed to provide the expected opportunities for capitalist expansion. Instead there has been a collapse of production in Russia and most of its ex-satellites. The poverty of its population, the absencsence of any business legality has seen a flow of wealth in the reverse direction to western banks, and a de-investment in Russian industry.
All the wars of the decade, from the Gulf to Kosovo, despite their massive destruction, have failed to create the expected opportunities for reconstruction. Instead the slaughter of populations, the destruction and dislocation of the economy, further contracts the market.
3) The various locomotives of the world economy have been derailed. The reunification of Germany has finally ended the economic "miracle": mass unemployment, sluggish growth and massive debts testify to it. East Germany turned out to be a heavy burden, not a new field for capital accumulation.
Japan, the world economy's most important supplier of liquidity and the second largest economy in the world, has failed to emerge from stagnation throughout the decade, not least because of the contraction and then collapse of the South East Asian economies in 1997.
After the crash of these economic "tigers" and "dragons" in the east, weakening the emerging Chinese "economic powerhouse", other growth engines in the third world, like Mexico and Brazil, broken down.
Only the United States has apparently reversed this trend, with the longest period of economic expansion in its history. But instead of re-ignie-igniting the embers of the world economy the expansion of the American economy has only prevented them from being extinguished entirely and at an enormous cost. There has been a new explosion of the US trade deficit and new levels of indebtedness.
4) The gadgets of technological innovation do not overcome capitalism's inherent contradictions. In decadent capitalism the main driving force behind technological change, the growth of the productive forces, has been the needs of the military sector, the means of destruction.
Both the computer "revolution" and now the Internet "revolution" are attempts to graft these spin-offs of war (the Pentagon has always been the world's leading user of computers and the Internet was originally created for military purposes) onto the capitalist economy as a whole to give it a new lease of life.
The Internet gold rush is still in full swing, as indicated by the fantastic worth assigned to "technology stocks" by the Dow Jones to companies which have sometimes made no profits but are valued entirely on the basis of hypothetical future wealth. Indeed most of the growth in stock market speculation today is driven by e-commerce. Enormous investments and record mergers are being carried through in the hope of finding a new Eldorado.
Developments in technology certainly can speed up production, cut cut distribution costs, and provide new sources of advertising revenue, better exploiting existing markets. But unless the consequent expansion of production can find new solvent markets the development of the productive forces that new technology promises will remain fictional. Its benefits can only be partially utilised by capitalism, to centralise and rationalise certain sectors of the economy - usually those in the service sector.
It has to be emphasised that the "new economy" frenzy which has seized hold of investors is itself an expression of capitalism's economic impasse. Marx already showed this in his day: stock exchange speculation does not reveal the sound health of the economy but the fact that it is sliding towards bankruptcy.
5) The impasse of the capitalist economy is much sharper than in the 1930s but it is disguised and drawn out by a number of factors. In the 30s the crisis hit the two strongest capitalist nations, the United States and Germany, the first and worst, and led to a collapse of world trade and a depression. Since 1968 however the bourgeoisie has profited from the lessons of this experience in facing up to the re-emergence of the crisis, drawing lessons that have not been forgotten in the 90s. The world bourgeoisie under the domination of the US has not resorted to protectionism on the scale of the 30s.
By using measureures of international capitalist co-ordination — the IMF, World Bank, WTO, new currency blocs — it has been possible to avoid this outcome and instead push the crisis onto the weakest and most peripheral areas of the world economy.
6) In understanding the point which the decay of capitalism has reached we must distinguish between its conjunctural manifestation in the cycles of crisis, war, reconstruction, new crisis - and the "business cycles" that still punctuate the life of the capitalist economy.
It is these recessions and recoveries (four since 1968) that enable the bourgeoisie to pretend that the economy is still healthy by pointing to continued or renewed growth. The bourgeoisie can conceal this growth's diseased dependence on massive "super-debt", and the parasitic expansion of various waste industries (arms, advertising, etc). It can thus hide the weaker nature of each recovery and the increasing strength of each recession under a mass of misleading statistics about real growth, unemployment, etc
For revolutionaries the proof of capitalism's bankruptcy therefore does not lie only in the increasingly severe but temporary official falls in production during recessions, or in stock market "corrections", but in the worsening manifestations of an insoluble and permanent crisis of overproduction taken as an historic whole. It is the open crisis sis of capitalist decadence that propels the proletariat onto the road that leads to the seizure of power on the one hand, or if it fails, makes the present slide into militarist barbarism irreversible.
7) It is only in the moral imperatives of vulgar materialism that the class struggle should inevitably answer the deepening of the economic crisis with a corresponding force.
For marxism, it is certainly the economic crisis that reveals to the proletariat the nature of its historic tasks in their entirety. However the tempo of the class struggle, as well as having its own "laws of motion", is also profoundly effected by developments in the "superstructural" regions of society: at the social, political and cultural levels.
The non-identity between the rhythm of the economic crisis and that of the class struggle was already apparent in the period between 1968-89. The successive waves of struggle for example did not correspond directly to the hills and troughs of the economic crisis. The ability of state capitalism to slow down the acceleration of the crisis has often interrupted the rhythm of the class struggle.
But, more importantly, unlike the period 1917-23, the class struggle has not developed overtly at the political level. The fundamental break that the proletariat made with the counter-revolution after May 68 in France wnce was expressed essentially in a determined defence by the working class at the economic level, where it began to re-learn many lessons about the anti-working class role of the trade unions. But the weight of the parties that had, at different stages, gone over to the counter-revolution during the past century - of the social democratic, Stalinist and Trotskyist varieties - and the minuscule influence of the left communist tradition on the other - prevented the "politicisation" of the struggles.
The stalemate in the class struggle that has resulted - a bourgeoisie unable to unleash another world war (because of the continued resistance of the working class to the demands of capitalism in crisis), a working class unable to finish off the bourgeoisie, has led to the period of the decomposition of world capitalism.
8) For certain narrow conceptions of marxism, the evolution of the superstructure of society can only be an effect not a cause. But the decomposition of capitalist society at the social, political and military levels has significantly retarded the evolution of the class struggle. While mechanical materialism looks for the cause of class peace in a supposed reorganisation of capitalism, marxism shows how the absence of perspective that characterises today's period delays and obscures the development of class consciousness.
The campaigns abs about the death of communism and the victory of capitalist democracy that have flowered on the ruins of USSR have disoriented the world proletariat. The working class has felt its impotence in the face of a succession of bloody imperialist conflicts whose real motives have been obscured behind humanitarian or democratic propaganda and a facade of unity among the major powers.
The gradual decay of the social infrastructure in education, housing, transport, health, environment, and food has created a climate of despair that affects proletarian consciousness.
Likewise the corruption of the political and business apparatus and the decline of artistic culture strengthens cynicism everywhere.
The development of mass unemployment particularly amongst youth, leading to lumpenisation and the normalisation of drug culture, begins to corrode the solidarity of the proletariat.
9) In place of the language of truth of the right wing governments of the 80s, the bourgeoisie now speaks with a neo-reformist and populist dialect in order to smother the class identity of the proletariat. Bringing the left of the bourgeoisie into government has proved to be the ideal means of making the most of the proletariat's disarray. No longer speaking the language of struggle as it did in opposition in the eighties, the left parties in government are ware well equipped to give a softer edge to the attacks on working class living standards. They are better able to obscure militarist barbarism with a humanitarian rhetoric. And they are more suited to correcting the failures of neo-liberal economic policies with more direct state intervention.
10) Nevertheless the working class suffered no lasting defeat in 1989, and since 1992 it has taken up the struggle to defend its interests.
The proletariat is slowly and unevenly regaining confidence in its capacities. And through the development of combativity we can expect to see an increasing distrust of the trade unions, who, in concert with the left governments, are trying to isolate and fragment the struggles and give them the political agenda of the ruling class.
Nevertheless, we cannot expect to see, at least in the short to medium term, a decisive shift in advantage toward the proletariat, one that would put the present strategy of the bourgeoisie in question.
11) In the longer term the potential for the proletariat to strengthen itself politically and close the gap on its class enemy is intact, linked to the following factors:
- the advancing economic crisis, which will push forward proletarian reflection on the need to confront and overcome the system
- the increasingly massive, simultaneous, and generalised character of the attacks, posing the need for a generalised class response
- the increase in state repression
- the omnipresence of war, destroying illusions in the possibility of a peaceful capitalism
- the possibility of growing militancy
- the entry into struggle of a second undefeated generation of workers (see point 17, in the resolution on the international situation from the 13th ICC Congress, in International Review n°97).
12) And while it is undeniable that there has been over the last decade an ebbing of class consciousness in the proletariat as a whole, on the other hand, the events of these years have led to a profound questioning and reflection in the most advanced sections of the working class - even if they are still only tiny minorities. This has tended to lead them towards the positions and history of the communist left. The international development of discussion circles confirms this.
Of course, at present, the bourgeoisie can officially ignore these developments and present today's revolutionary organisations as completely irrelevant.
But the ideological campaigns on the supposed death of communism, the end of thend of the working class and its history; the attempt to equate proletarian internationalism with negationism; the attempt to infiltrate and destroy revolutionary organisations; all this testifies to the bourgeoisie's concern for the long term maturation of the revolutionary consciousness of the working class. As a historical class, the proletariat is much more than the level of its struggles at any particular time would suggest.
In the 30s, in another period, the Italian left grappled with the lessons of the defeat of the Russian revolution, when the proletariat had been mobilised behind the bourgeoisie. Today's revolutionary minorities must complete the foundations of the future party, not least by accelerating the process of unification of today's proletarian political milieu.
In future insurrections of the proletariat, the revolutionary party will be as decisive as it was in 1917.
13) The course of history is still towards decisive class confrontations, but the collapse of the bi-polar imperialist world in 1989, rather than ushering a new epoch of peace, has made it more likely than before that the scales of history will be tipped in favour of the bourgeoisie's "solution" to the economic crisis - the destruction of humanity through imperialist war or environmental catastrophe. The imperialist blocs required the adhesion of the proletariat to the res respective camps and thus the prior defeat of the working class. The imperialist free-for-all since 1989, and the growing decomposition of society, means that irreversible barbarism can occur without this kind of mobilisation.
14) The tendency toward the re-formation of imperialist blocs remains an important factor of the world situation. But the collapse of the old Eastern bloc has given the centrifugal tendencies of world imperialism the upper hand. The removal of the counter-weight to the US bloc has led the former satellites of the two post-Yalta constellations to spin off in different directions and pursue their conflicting interests autonomously. And for this very reason the US has been obliged to resist the threat to its hegemony. The military weakness of Germany or Japan, in particular their lack of nuclear weapons and their political difficulty in developing them, means that these powers are unable to provide a sufficient magnet for the formation of a rival bloc.
15) Consequently imperialist tensions are exploding in the most chaotic way under the impulse of decadent capitalism's economic impasse, that accentuates competition between each nation. Those who are wrongly expecting a period of relative peace within which capitalist blocs will re-form are vastly underestimating the danger of imperialist war that is developing both at the qualitative and qua quantitative levels.
The NATO war in Kosovo in 1999 has in particular led to a marked acceleration in imperialist tensions and conflict around the world. It saw the first bombing of a European city, and the first armed intervention of German imperialism since the 2nd World War. The immediate launching of a second Chechnyan war by Russia showed imperialist terror had been given a new respectability.
There is a gradual but increasingly simultaneous extension of imperialist conflict to all the great strategic zones of the planet:
- to Europe where ex-Yugoslavia has become a permanent arena for the contest of the major powers that continually stoke the fires of local bloodbaths and threatens to draw in neighbouring regions;
- to Africa where imperialist war has become the norm rather than the exception;
- to South and East Asia, in the Indian sub continent ("the most dangerous place in the world" - President Clinton), over Timor and between China and Taiwan, not forgetting the antagonism between North and South Korea, and the re-assertion of Japanese ambitions;
- to the Middle East where the Pax Americana is continually coming unstuck - thanks to the interference of the European powers and the egoism of the local imperialisms;
- and even to Latin America, where Uncle Sam has lost exclusive rights to its imperialist hunting ground.
Although imperialist war is as yet mainly confined to the peripheral areas of world capitalism, the increasing participation of the great powers indicates that its ultimate logic is to consume most of the main industrial and population centres of the globe.
16) Bloody as the present conflicts already are, the recent development of a new arms race means that the imperialist powers are preparing for future wars of real mass destruction. The brief hiatus in increased military expenditure after 1989 is coming to an end. Lord Robertson, the new Secretary General of NATO, has warned the European powers that they must increase defence spending to be able to keep a war going "for at least a year". The new central European NATO powers - Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary - are having to upgrade their ageing military airforce.
The United States is providing an important stimulus to this deathly spiral. Its decision to push ahead with its "missile defence" system has already brought forth a more aggressive nuclear policy by Russia and threatens to tear up the SALT 1 and 2 agreements. And the United States already spends $50 billion a year on maintaining its existing nuclear arsenal.
The significance of the nuclear arming of India and Pakistan, as far as new wars between these two rivals are concerned, hardly needs comment.
17) We will look in vain for a serious economic rationale for today's growing military chaos. The decadence of capitalism signified that the growing appetites of the industrialised imperialist powers could henceforth only be satisfied by a re-division of the world market, in direct competition with rivals of comparable strength. Wars to open up new markets against pre-capitalist empires were replaced by world wars of survival. Thus strategic motives had taken the place of directly economic objectives in waging imperialist war. War had become the way of life of capitalism, reinforcing its economic bankruptcy on a global scale.
Even so the world wars of the 20th century and the preparation for them still had a logic and order: the forging of blocs and spheres of influence in order to reorganise and reconstruct the world after militarily defeating the enemy. Consequently, despite the tendency for mutual ruination, there was still a certain economic logic in the military posture of the competing powers. It was the have-not nations who had the most interest in militarily disturbing the status quo, and the haves who opted for a defensive strategy.
18) Today, this long term strategic rationalityality of purpose has been replaced by a more short term survival instinct, dominated by the particular interests of each state.
The United States can no longer play the role it did between 1914-17 and 39-41, waiting for its rivals and allies to exhaust themselves before entering the fray. Thus the main economic beneficiary of the two world wars will have to increasingly exhaust itself in the military effort to preserve its world hegemony without the hope of re-creating a stable bloc around it.
Germany, the main contender to rival the US, is economically strong, but has no realistic hope of creating a rival military pole.
The rival secondary imperialisms have no possibility of offsetting their weaknesses by coalescing around rival superpowers. Instead each one has to go it alone - to punch above its weight - with more hope of frustrating the alliances of rivals than of forging its own, and even being forced into wars against its allies - as Britain and France were against Serbia in the Kosovo war - in order to stay in the game.
19) In this situation war today increasingly appears purposeless, as war for its own sake. The destruction of towns and villages, the devastation of regions, ethnic cleansing, turning whole populations into refugees or the direct massacring of defenceless civilians seems to be the objective of imperialerialist war rather than the consequence of actual military, let alone economic, goals. There are no lasting or clear-cut victors but a temporary stalemate, before renewed battles of increased destruction.
The reconstruction of war-devastated countries that used to be the only possible and temporary economic benefit of war is today a fantasy. Old war zones will remain as rubble.
But ultimately this situation is only the logical outcome of an economic system whose tendencies to self-destruction have become dominant.
This is what is meant by the irrationality of war in the decadence of capitalism. The period of decomposition has only taken it to an anarchic conclusion. War is no longer undertaken to further economic goals, or even for organised strategic objectives, but as short term, localised and fragmented attempts to survive at each other's expense.
But humanity's time has not run out yet. The world proletariat has not yet been defeated in its main concentrations in the advanced capitalist countries nor been turned into canon-fodder. Despite the retreat which the working class has been through since 1989, it is still possible for it to catch up with history. The ineluctable aggravation of the economic crisis will act on the growth of class militancy and the development of consciousness about the historic bankruptcy of the capitalist mode of production, which are the preconditions for the working class to fulfil its capacity to carry out the communist revolution.