The world capitalist economy is openly in crisis. Japan, the US and now Germany are officially in recession. The economic indicators are in the red. In 2002, the rate of growth in the 30 OECD countries will not go above 1%. The optimistic assurances of the experts about the recovery being just around the corner look more and more like whistling in the dark.
The reality is that working class living standards are in decline all over the world. Take the growth of unemployment. In the USA, 2 million jobs were lost in 2001. Huge new redundancy plans have been announced in the heart of the industrialised countries, in all sectors, from the car industry (eg, 60,000 at Fords USA) to aeronautics (eg the 6000 at Airbus, following the massive lay-offs in the wake of the September 11 attacks); from new technology (computers, mobile phones) to old industry (mines in Spain, steel in Germany) and services (the tens of thousands of jobs threatened in the post in Britain). Not to mention the collapse of the ‘internet economy’ where the speculative bubble burst some time ago. At the same time we are seeing the dismantling of welfare systems, as in the health service in France and Britain, or the brutal reductions in pensions in Germany and Italy. Flexibility, part-time and precarious jobs are being imposed in different forms in all countries. Since the summer of 2001, the adoption of the Euro has served as a pretext for raising the cost of living across Europe.
After going through three months of recession, Argentina’s dive into bankruptcy is a real pointer to the future that capitalism has in store for us. This country was formerly presented by the world bank as a model of economic improvement. Now the only way that the latest president Duhalde can get the loan he needs from the IMF is to promise another 100,000 redundancies. Not only are other Latin American states like Brazil and Chile teetering on the same brink, but the ‘tiger’ economies of South East Asia, which have already been through the 1997 crash, are facing new alarms. The bankruptcy of Argentina, like the collapse of the US energy giant Enron, are signs of the global bankruptcy of the capitalist system.
The fact that capitalism has no way out of its crisis transforms economic competition between nations into a spiral of military confrontations. Against the background of a saturated world market, the nation states of the world are hurled into conflicts in which strategic interests take over from the immediate hunt for profit. All countries, big and small, are caught up in the logic of imperialism, of accelerated military spending and of open or concealed conflicts with their rivals. Ever since World War One, capitalism has been in a permanent state of war; war has become inseparable from the survival of the capitalist mode of production. This has been shown to be more true than ever since the downfall of the Russian bloc, which was supposed to usher in a new era of world peace. In fact the resulting dissolution of the old bloc discipline has merely released the appetite of every imperialist power to pursue its own national interests and has multiplied the arenas of conflict.
The military intervention in Afghanistan, presented as a “war against terrorism”, is a concentrated expression of the contradictions of the system. It is being led by the world’s cop, the USA, in order to impose a disciplined world order that corresponds to its interests; but it succeeds only in spreading further chaos, in stirring up new conflicts. In Afghanistan itself, which is already in a state of utter ruin, fighting has already begun between the various factions who have been brought in to succeed the Taliban. The Afghanistan conflict has in turn helped to aggravate the rivalries between India and Pakistan, and between Israel and the Palestinians. Meanwhile Bush is talking about an “axis of evil” that includes Iran, Iraq and North Korea, all of whom could be future targets of the “war against terrorism”. US troops have also been sent to the Philippines to help the government crush the Islamic insurgents there. Bush has made it quite clear that the anti-terrorist crusade will go on indefinitely and will be aimed at all who give succour to the USA’s enemies. And these enemies, in the final analysis, also include the USA’s nominal allies. One of the key strategic aims of the Afghanistan war is to enable the US to put a block on any further European (and particularly German) advance towards the Middle East and Central Asia.
In all these conflicts, it is always the civil population, the exploited and the oppressed, who are the main victims � bombed, massacred, exiled, forced to beg for handouts in refugee camps where they face death through starvation, cold and disease. This plunge into the barbarity of war is the clearest of all expressions of the historic bankruptcy of a system which now threatens the very survival of the human race.
The social order which throws millions of workers onto the dole in the industrialised countries is the same social order which slaughters the civil populations in the weaker countries. This is why it’s so important for proletarians to understand this connection: by fighting against the devastating effects of the economic crisis, by affirming their own class interests, workers are also fighting against the roots of war and barbarism. By taking up the combat against job-cuts and wage-cuts, against the deterioration of its living and working conditions, the working class is laying the groundwork for a wider and deeper combat against the capitalist system and its deadly train of war and catastrophe.