Duing the World Congress of ISA held from 30 January to 5 February delegates and visitors held intense discussions on ‘World Perspectives’. As a consequence, the document “Epoch of multiple crises -we have a world to win” was passed. We publish here Part 2 — dealing with the various regions of the world.
- After the outbreak of the war, Germany’s Chancellor Scholz declared the “Zeitenwende”, a historical turning point. An enormous spending package of 100 billion euros for the military was decided at breath-taking speed. All speculation about Germany staying somewhat neutral in the war due to the dependence on Russian energy should be over by now. More and more heavy weapons are being sent to Ukraine, including Leopard-2 battle tanks.
- Heavy sanctions against Russia were implemented and energy imports from Russia are being phased out over the whole EU and replaced with oil and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from the US and Qatar. A gas shortage was only prevented due to an exceptionally warm winter. Cynically, European energy companies used the uncertainty to increase their prices manifold, creating record profits for them and plunging consumers into despair.
- Likewise, the German arms industry is making record profits in the war. But apart from that, Germany’s export-oriented economy has been hit hard by the war in Ukraine specifically and the New Cold War in general. The time when it has been easy to make deals in the US at the same time as in China, in Russia and Iran as well as everywhere in Europe, is over. The decoupling means that Germany’s export strength is falling between the gap being created as the two blocks drift apart, and all the underlying contradictions in the country’s position on the world market are now sharply coming to the surface. The New Cold War finds itself reflected within the German cabinet itself, with Scholz and the SPD still having an eye lurking towards China while the Greens and the ‘Free Democrats’ are more firmly entrenched on the US side. However, although China is still an important trade partner, Germany is historically and organically closer to the US. The German state as the ‘ideal personification of the total national capital’ is ready to sacrifice some short-term profits for the strategic transatlantic partnership of the EU and the US, even though this process is not straightforward and brings its own set of tensions. While economic ties are shifting towards the US, the remaining profitable links to China (and to some extent Russia) are a source for complications, manoeuvres and future conflicts within and amongst European countries.
- The number of so-called Zombie companies increased during Covid as did the state measures that kept them alive. It was clear that this could not go on forever. A study by ‘Allianz Trade’ expects the number of insolvencies to increase by 10% in 2022 and rise by 19% in 2023. For France, estimates are +29%, Germany +17%, Italy +36% including about 100,000 companies in these three countries alone. Although smaller companies are more affected — speeding up a process of centralization and monopolization — this will still mean hundreds of thousands of jobs lost.
- Alongside the crisis of German capitalism, the EU’s other major power, France, is also in a new phase of accelerated decline. For French capitalism, the impact of the war and energy crisis comes in a context of an already bleak economic outlook, with productivity declining steadily for over 2 decades. With no strategy to reverse this organic decline, French capitalism sees the only way out in an agenda of intensified exploitation of the working class, whose historic conquests stand in the way, setting the stage for an historic class confrontation which is already beginning to heat up. For almost 50 days, workers at 7 refineries across the country have led a strike that has shaken both the oil giants TotalEnergies and ExxonMobil, as well as the Macron government, opening the way for a large-scale struggle against all of Macron’s anti-working-class policies.
- What also stands out in France, as opposed to most European countries, is the presence of an invigorated left alternative in the form of France Insoumise that challenges the growth of the far right and can help to prod the labour movement into action. This being said, the poor internal democracy within France Insoumise, the leadership’s tendency to water down its program in the context of its alliance with the Greens and the PS inside the “NUPES” (New Ecological and Social People’s Union), as well as the recent mismanagement of a case of domestic violence involving one of its main leaders, also points to dangers ahead regarding FI’s evolution. They underline the need for genuinely democratic grassroots local structures, for a principled policy regarding issues of oppression, and for an approach explaining that the best demands contained in FI’s program can only be realized by mobilizing and organizing the working class for a conscious confrontation with capitalism. This is all the more pressing as the Macron government, whose weakness reflects the depth of the political crisis, while attempting to faithfully serve the interests of big business, will struggle to contain the explosive situation.
- Perspectives for capitalism in Italy and the Spanish state are just as bleak, if not more so. Following the worst of the post-2008 debt crisis in Europe, which was existential for the EU, capitalist commentators and policy-makers were lulled into a false sense of security by an era of relative tranquillity in debt markets, propped up by an extended period of unprecedented monetary stimulus from the ECB, and negative interest rates. Internationally, this delusion had another manifestation in the brief surge in popularity of “Modern Monetary Theory”, which in essence asserted that public debt and deficits did not matter. 2022 is a giant wakeup call for those who entertained such delusions. In the European context, this was graphically illustrated in the financial turmoil which provoked Liz Truss’s collapse in Britain. In the cold light of day, the reality of unsustainable public debt levels in the beleaguered periphery of Europe, will return to the agenda as new recessions expose underlying weaknesses, which have only sharpened since the last crisis. Political turmoil in Italy, and growing polarization in the Spanish state are both an anticipation of such new crises, and an aggravating factor.
- Capitalist politicians are in a lose-lose situation. Whatever they do to solve one crisis has negative effects in other fields. But whatever economic problems there are in the world economy, in Europe they are even more difficult to handle due to the existence of several nation states with different, often contradictory interests, operating in the common monetary/political framework of the EU. We always stressed that the EU, in the long run, cannot overcome the national limitations of capitalism. While European integration went further than many expected, driven by the headwinds of the neoliberal era, the boundaries of national capital could not and cannot be overcome, resurfacing with a vengeance at every major turn, as seen with the 2008 crisis, Covid, the energy crisis and will be seen again as we enter a sharpening economic crisis. In a nutshell: the conflicts between the different countries in the EU will increase, leading to less cooperation. Another feature will be the increasing imperialist attitude of the stronger economies against the weaker ones, which can come up against stronger resistance, particularly from Eastern states whose weight has increased relatively in the context of the Ukraine war. Alongside growing centrifugal tendencies, it can also be the case that the war in Ukraine and wider Cold War global polarization, and the countervailing tendency towards the strengthening of the Western bloc against China and Russia, acts as a certain glue to hold the EU together. In addition to these factors, the process of near-shoring means that European companies, in pulling out of China for example, look for places with cheap labour costs in Europe. This in turn may give a certain boost to growth in some regions of Central and Eastern Europe, which could strengthen support for the EU. On the other hand, if the same working conditions are also transferred to Central and Eastern European countries, this will also give a boost to the class struggle. If this is not taken up by left and working-class forces who can galvanize this anger in an anti-capitalist direction, there is a danger that the far right will channel this anger along nationalist lines.
- Conflicts like those with Poland are not about “European values” or about the balance between national and EU laws. Above all, Polish and Hungarian governments are representing the interests of that part of their ruling class that wants to regain some of the economic and political power that was lost during capitalist restoration. Bourgeois democracy and “rule of law” is undermined in these countries in order to strengthen the grip on the state apparatus by the ruling party representing these interests. At the highpoint of Covid, during the battle for masks, vaccines and PPE, it was very clear that each member state put its own interests over the interests of others or the EU as a whole. We are already seeing the same phenomenon with the developing energy crisis. Over the summer of 2022, different EU gas suppliers were outbidding each other for liquefied natural gas on the international market to restock gas reserve capacity, leading to record prices in August. With further decreases of Russian pipeline gas supply anticipated, the perspectives are for even higher average gas prices over 2023.
- Some countries are officially in a recession already or will be soon; in most it already feels like one for working-class people. With the ongoing Ukraine war, the energy crisis will hit much harder the longer and colder the winter is. EU governments are coming forward with all sorts of cynical proposals to “save energy” with maybe the Belgian one winning, proposing that young people should invite friends over to cuddle to keep warm. But the situation is not a joke. The high energy costs affect European industry with companies already reducing production in summer 2022 and will have serious social effects. The rise in energy costs started in autumn 2021 but rose much higher due to the war in Ukraine. Energy bills developed into a message of horror. Even back in 2019, 50 million people in the EU had problems paying for sufficient energy, many of them being women and single parents. This number will explode over the winter months despite all the expensive measures governments are taking. According to a study by the European economics think tank Breughel, since September 2021, EU governments have so far allocated over 600 billion euros to mitigate the impact of rising energy prices; the UK, the equivalent of 97 billion euros. Measures range from (sometimes token) support to poor households and reductions in taxes on energy — applied by nearly all European governments, subsidizing electricity production (Spanish State and Portugal) all the way to bailouts of energy suppliers that went bankrupt and even governments buying strategic energy companies (like EDF in France and Uniper in Germany). While some governments have introduced or are proposing modest windfall taxes on the ‘excess’ profits of the energy sector to help cover the costs, many of the above measures have directly fueled the already monstrous profits with taxpayer money.
- In recent months, we have seen several proposals and discussions in the bodies and structures of the EU on how to deal with the energy crisis. While there have been proposals by EU structures like the EU commission, these failed due to competing interests of the member states. This — like other questions — is heating up the conflict between France and Germany.
- And there are more conflicts to come. How should China be dealt with, which has been building its influence in the last years especially in the Balkans and in Eastern Europe, but also involving Greece and Italy into the BRI? How should Russia be dealt with and the sanctions in the unfolding energy crisis? And what about the unfolding new “refugee crisis” with a rising number of people escaping from war, climate disasters and starvation? In the context of growing inter-imperialist tensions, fourteen NATO countries are working on the “European Sky Shield Initiative‘’ led by Germany, relying on US-Israeli rocket technology (involving Israel’s largest ever arms export deal), but excluding France — a reflection of the centrifugal forces. Another example is the question of EU expansion including Ukraine — the poorest country in Europe, at the height of the war with Russian imperialism. Several countries demand, for political reasons, to give Ukraine the status of a candidate while others want several Balkan countries to come first. Those have been waiting for a long time and are increasingly frustrated, flirting with China and Russia — another reason for the EU to try to keep them on board with Von der Leyen’s charm tour in the Balkans. And then there is the question of inflation, interest rates and the economy. The ECB has increased interest rates later than the Federal Reserve to fight inflation. This in turn, while currently still countered by inflation, pulls towards increasing (state) debts which has especially serious effects for countries in the European south with a public debt ratio much higher than the EU average (Euro zone: 95.6%, Greece 189.3%, Italy 152.6%, France 114.4%).
- A research paper from Forrester predicts that the inability of the governments to solve the energy crisis will further decrease trust in politics. By the end of 2023 Forrester says, only one out of five European citizens will trust his/her government. This is already visible in the increase in strikes and mass protests as we see in France, Belgium, Britain and other countries. This tends to increase populist measures on a national level bringing governments into further conflict with the EU and/or other countries.
- British capitalism suffers from perhaps the greatest special crisis of any major European power. Far from re-establishing British strength as a “global” player, post-Brexit reality has seen even more accelerated decline of the world’s once dominant imperialist power. This is what lies beneath the debacle of Liz Truss’ aborted premiership, the shortest in UK history. Her downfall and the chaos it unleashed —with the Bank of England having to conduct an emergency intervention to stave off a devastating financial crisis— also reflects the interrelationship between the political and economic crises of capitalism. Boris Johnson’s populist “Trumpification” of the Tory party, part of an international trend, while it achieved temporary electoral success, ultimately turned the once great party of British imperialism into a massive liability. Truss, who was elected by the Trumpified Tory base on a programme which represented a further shift to the right, combined Johnson’s reactionary nationalism with “traditional” Thatcherite tools that were rejected not only by the public, but also the markets, which — in a period characterized by politics reasserting their primacy over markets — felt nevertheless forced to raise their voice in British politics.
- Rishi Sunak’s new government starts in a weak position, compelled to usher in a new age of austerity, while confronted with an unfolding class struggle that represents the re-awakening of the British working class and labour movement that finally has begun to reverse the trend of decline since the defeat of the miners’ strike of 1984–1985, building upon elements of revival and a leftward shift within the movement which we have highlighted in recent years. The current strike wave, as well as the explosive rise of the ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign, have important lessons for other countries as a new phase of class struggle begins in Europe. A UK general election, whenever it comes, will likely see a Labour government, under neo-Blairite “Sir” Keir Starmer elected in some form. Coming in the midst of a rising labour movement and following the experience of Corbynism, such a scenario could see an historic opening for independent working-class politics in Britain.
- The decline of British capitalism is all-sided and profound, even to the degree of touching upon the very integrity of the British state. As we have commented previously in relation to Scotland, the key events of the last period have served to add fuel to the centrifugal tendencies within the UK, and this remains the case today. Nicola Sturgeon’s response to the political and economic chaos of the administration of Liz Truss’ —who was chosen as Tory leader while pledging to “ignore” Scotland— was predictably to insist that Scotland needed to flee the sinking ship. She failed to mention, of course, the economic chaos being foisted on thousands of workers throughout Scotland who are fighting SNP-led councils and her government against real-terms pay cuts, offering a taste of what an SNP-led capitalist Scotland would offer. While momentum remains stalled in relation to any independence referendum in Scotland, with Sturgeon embroiled in a failed Supreme Court challenge with the UK government, the issue remains an underlying ticking time bomb. For our EWS section, which has made encouraging incipient progress in building our forces in Scotland, emphasizing a class-struggle based strategy to win a referendum, rooted in a united struggle with the growing class battles in England, Wales and (if currently to a lesser extent) Ireland, and a sharp focus on political independence from the SNP, is as important as our support for a socialist independent Scotland, in free and voluntary federation with a socialist Wales, England and Ireland.
- In Northern Ireland, the situation is more acute, with the sectarian “power sharing” institutions flowing from the 1998 Good Friday Agreement in a deep impasse. The main unionist party, the DUP, has refused to reenter government until the Northern Ireland Protocol (an arrangement regulating trade and checks between the UK and EU following Brexit) is scrapped. Far from being about economic aspects, the main motivation for this, and the reason why most Protestant voters support the DUP’s boycott of the political institutions, is that it is understood by Protestants to set Northern Ireland further apart from Britain. It is therefore once again more about people’s sense of identity. The volatility of the situation is demonstrated by how frequent and open discussions are about a possible return to violence in a society that continues to be scarred by and divided over the legacy of conflict. Paramilitaries continue to operate in Northern Ireland and reports indicate that loyalist paramilitaries are growing and, particularly among younger people, there is a growing desire to take a stand and fight against what is considered to be an ongoing push towards a United Ireland. The underlying cause is the demographic change: population census results published in 2022 for the first time showed more Catholic than Protestant residents in the history of the Northern Irish state, an entity literally designed by British imperialism 100 years ago to ensure a Protestant majority. The significance of these developments, which undermine the UK’s integrity, cannot be overestimated.
- Growing illusions among Catholics in these processes paving the road for an inevitable slow march to Irish unity on a capitalist basis, will be shattered by the harsh reality of growing sectarian conflict, with the Protestant population determined not to be pushed into a United Ireland. While sectarianism and tensions are rising, there has also been an increase in struggle for increased wages, against the cost-of-living crisis and mobilizations against gender violence which all act to bring working-class people together. There has been a marked rise in trade union and workplace struggle spurred on by covid, years of public sector cuts and the cost-of-living crisis. The ongoing economic and cost-of-living crises will further push such struggles and provide opportunities also for workers in Northern Ireland to link up with their colleagues in Britain.
- The embers of the 2017 mass revolt in Catalonia have also not been extinguished by the political persecution of the Spanish state, or the policies of the centre-Left coalition government. Organizers claimed that over 700,000 people participated in this year’s annual “Diada” march for independence, and pressure on the regional government to act was reflected in the abandonment by nationalist party, Junts, of the Catalan executive, in protest at the conciliatory turn taken by the majority party in the coalition, ERC, which had previously defended a more hardline pro-independence position. The strengthening of the far right, which in the Spanish state majors in reactionary anti-Catalan, anti-Basque Spanish nationalism, is the other side of the coin to a perspective which undoubtedly points towards greater tensions with new explosions on the agenda.
- These are just some examples of the return or deepening of “national questions”, of conflicts along questions of the rights of national minorities. In Europe there are again tensions heating up in Eastern Europe —for example with Orban reaching out to Hungarian minorities in several countries in an attempt to propagate “Greater Hungary”. Also in the Balkans, tensions between several states and nationalities are far from over: in Bosnia-Herzegovina, politicians in the Serbian entity Republika Srpska have leant towards Serbia (and Russia) whipping up nationalism. Tensions between North Macedonia and Bulgaria were only “solved” under pressure from the EU and can come back, as is the case with the tensions between Serbia and Kosovo. In an attempt to reduce Russian and Chinese influence, the EU put extra emphasis on the region in the second half of 2022 —but none of the underlying problems have been resolved, as shown by the huge anti-government protests linked to corruption and rising costs of living in Albania.
- On a world scale too, the national question is being dragged into the storm of the renewed global turmoil — while being itself, in some cases, a key factor feeding that turmoil. Examples are the new flare up of conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the new surge of violence in Kashmir and in Kurdistan, and many more that will increasingly be used by different national bourgeois rivals to strengthen their influence as well as to cover up the deepening social problems. Socialists have the responsibility to take those feelings and demands of suppressed minorities seriously, linking the struggles against national oppression to the struggle against class exploitation.
- With the Ukraine war came a historic shock doctrine in Sweden, with an unprecedented campaign to join NATO (along with Finland) and drastically increased military spending. All parliamentary parties, including the Left Party, favoured the decision to raise GDP’s share of military spending to 2%. Left-wing parties across the Nordic countries have backed a huge military build-up, and the Finnish Left Alliance announced in June 2022 that it “does not oppose membership of NATO”. Former social democratic Prime Minister, Magdalena Andersson, said in early March that “NATO membership is not an option” — only to say a few weeks later that “the goal is to join NATO in June”. This is a historic shift, throwing overboard some of the last remnants of working-class policies — the anti-militarism and anti-imperialist tradition of the Swedish workers movement. The decision to join NATO had been prepared in secret and in close cooperation with the “blue-brown” parties and the so-called business sector. The September 22 election was the most racist and militaristic election campaign ever in Sweden, resulting in the most right-wing government in modern history, dominated by racist Sweden Democrats, despite them being formally outside the government. The government’s servility for Erdoğan’s terrorist regime has reached new levels, as he refuses to ratify Sweden as a NATO member unless they agree to several concessions, including deportations of Kurds to Turkey, which have thus begun.
- The vilification of and attacks against asylum seekers and “non-Nordic people”, low-income earners, working-class suburbs etc have reached new levels. All mainstream parties have also moved to the right and become more racist, a trend seen throughout the Nordic countries. In Denmark, Social Democracy has basically adopted the policies of the racist Dansk Folkeparti and after the autumn election they ditched the Socialistisk Folkeparti to form a government with right-wing parties Moderaterna and Venstre. In both Finland and Norway, the two racist parties (Sannfinnländarna and Fremskrittspartiet respectively) have been a part of the government and the other parties have copied their policies in order to “win points”. All the Nordic countries have sent historically large arms packages to Ukraine worth billions of euros. With Sweden and Finland also very likely to soon be formally full members of NATO, Western imperialism will be strengthened. Although the tensions within NATO, especially as regards Turkey’s role, will not go away.
- Since our previous World Congress three years ago, China has been transformed. The economic crisis, germinating over more than two decades, has broken out with devastating effect. The dictatorship’s economic data and its tightly censored media hide the full extent of the crisis. Under Xi Jinping, spreading “negative economic news” is a criminal offence.
- China’s GDP data has been systematically inflated. Independent studies conclude that the economy is 20 % smaller than claimed. China’s economy today is weighed down by unprecedented debt levels, collapsing financial bubbles, a severe demographic crisis with a fast-shrinking labour force, weak consumer spending, falling wages, and accelerating economic decoupling from western capitalist states that once were instrumental in promoting the country’s capitalist expansion.
- The unprecedented purge of the CCP’s top ranks by Xi Jinping at October’s 20th Congress, with the anti-Xi factions wiped out, means the new-look government is “maximum Xi”. But this victory does not translate into real strength for Xi to confront his many domestic and international crises. In fact, he cut a more cautious figure at this congress especially in relation to the Cold War.
- At the congress the reactionary Zero Covid policy was again lauded as inviolable, a great “historic achievement” and a long-term strategy. It now transpires that Xi’s coterie soon after the 20th congress began making plans for a gradual step-by-step exit from Zero Covid probably linked to their hopes that a Chinese mRNA vaccine would become available in the spring of 2023. This was motivated by the huge drain on government funds for maintaining the policy, and the dire condition of China’s economy under intense pressure from US imperialism’s economic and geopolitical containment strategy.
- But this plan was cut across by the stormy popular upsurge in November, in which the horrors inflicted under Zero Covid acted as a spark for a broader backlash against dictatorial rule, censorship and repression. This movement, the most significant in China since 1989, forced the regime to beat a panicky, confused and disorganized retreat during which the Zero Covid policy collapsed into chaos. What followed was the most rapid and dramatic spread of the virus in the history of the global pandemic. At the time of our World Congress in late January, an officially reported 1.2 billion Chinese have been infected in just two months, and in all probability 600,000 to 1 million Chinese have died of Covid. This horrific outcome compounds the political crisis of Xi Jinping, with mass anger rising, and his position decisively weakened in society, globally, and inside the regime.
- Xi has been forced to backpedal on wolf warriorism (ultra-nationalistic rhetoric) and give his foreign ministry a face lift with the “softer” Qin Gang now put in charge. Wang Yi, who cannot be described as “soft”, is promoted to the Politburo and is therefore the top CCP official for foreign affairs. This reshuffle is cosmetic, and not a fundamental change of direction. But it reveals the seriousness of Xi’s crisis and his need to try to de-escalate, to buy more time in the US-China conflict, and particularly to try to weaken the coalition between European imperialism and US imperialism. This phase could well involve a more conciliatory, less retaliatory, style from the CCP even in the Taiwan conflict, but they hope to prepare for a higher level of geopolitical power struggle in the next phase with a more coherent, comprehensive and systematic approach. Roughly speaking, Xi changed from Trump’s approach to Biden’s approach. Xi’s promotion of Fujian-based generals at the congress was a sign there will be no let-up over Taiwan (which however does not mean an invasion is on the cards yet).
- Crucially for global capitalism, despite ritual mentions of “remaining open for business”, Xi is stepping up his nationalist pivot inwards in terms of economic policy (the Cold War leaves him few realistic alternatives), a policy the Financial Times calls “Fortress China”.
- The demographic crisis means India’s population should overtake China’s in 2023. Between 2012, the year Xi came to power, and 2019, the birth rate collapsed by 45%. This, despite widening the oppressive one-child policy to permit two children in 2016, and three since 2021. The marriage rate has almost halved since 2013. The unaffordability of children and marriage is a powerful factor behind the crisis in the housing market. China’s labour force is projected to fall to 57% of the population in 2030 from 66% in 2016.
- An important new feature is the regime’s antipathy towards using “flood-like stimulus” to revive growth — the huge credit injections that characterized past phases of economic slowdown (2008, 2015, 2020). The CCP’s room to manoeuvre has been dramatically curtailed as a consequence of unmanageable debt levels, reduced scope for further infrastructure binges and also, crucially, the US-China conflict.
- The bursting of the biggest financial bubble in capitalism’s history — China’s property bubble — is the decisive turning point. Our perspective of a Japanese-style development (a low growth “zombie” economy) has now been realized. This is also a turning point for the world economy. China accounted for over 30% of world GDP growth from 2013 to 2021. The property sector accounted for around 30% of China’s total GDP and more than a third of global construction activity. The implosion that began in mid-2021, with every metric crashing since — housing sales, housing starts, property prices (though at a slower pace which will only prolong the crisis), government land sales, investment — signals the breakdown of the CCP’s debt-driven state capitalist development model. But much like their western counterparts, China’s rulers don’t have a replacement model.
- The capitalists internationally have not yet woken up to the size of the coming storm. Capital Economics warned: “The financial world’s focus on a generational surge in inflation in advanced economies is stealing attention from a generational slowdown in China that is arguably of much greater importance for the long-term global outlook.”
- Economist Anne Stevenson-Yang summed up the enormity of the crisis: “After four decades of gravity-defying growth wrapped in a narrative of emerging dominance, China’s economy has come crashing to earth. This year, for the first time since Deng Xiaoping turned the country away from Maoism, China’s economy will shrink in US dollar terms. That has a lot to do with dollar strength but even more to do with the end of investment-driven growth. Even if property could revive — and it cannot — China will never again see the growth numbers that were so celebrated around the world.
- “The effects of decline will be devastating within China. Already, local governments, starved of the land-sales income on which they have come to rely and seeing tax revenues collapse, have begun to slash social services. One remembers with a shudder how quickly social services disappeared in the collapse of the USSR.” (The Market, 24 October 2022)
- For Marxists, the purpose of perspectives is to identify the most important changes and new features of a given situation, and to evaluate how these are likely to develop in interaction with the more structural long-term trends in order to avoid being left behind by events.
- Of course, China’s economic crisis impacts the imperialist Cold War. China’s economy is the new “sick man” of Asia, with almost all its neighbours growing more quickly. Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, which has invested between US$1–4 trillion globally (there is no comprehensive data), is now in retreat, especially with the onset of a new global debt crisis and anti-China backlash from Sri Lanka to Eastern Europe. This is a classic case of imperial overreach.
- US strategists who until recently obsessed over China’s rise are now discussing “Peak China” and new threats associated with a weakening China — an attack on Taiwan borne of desperation rather than confidence for example. Larry Summers, the former US Treasury Secretary, is one of those to change his stance: “It was taken as axiomatic six months or a year ago that at some point the Chinese would surpass the American economy in terms of total GDP at market exchange rates… That’s now much less clear.” Ruchir Sharma in the Financial Times argued, “China’s economy will not overtake the US until 2060, if ever”.
- ISA has consistently warned that many assessments of China’s economic strength were based on exaggeration and overlooked obvious frailties and contradictions. Xi’s regime engages in exaggeration and self-inflation as a strategy, part of its authoritarian nationalist doctrine to rule the country and inspire awe abroad. Today the US and western strategists feel — with some basis in fact — that they have the upper hand against the CCP. But like Xi they risk succumbing to hubris and overplaying their hand. The conflict between China and the US will undergo many phases in which the balance of economic and geopolitical power can shift and shift again.
- Just as striking as the economic and social crisis is the rapid radicalization of the younger generation. There is no space in this material to discuss the likely development of struggle by workers and oppressed groups, given the very complicated issues such a discussion must deal with. Suffice to say, the doubling down on repression and emphasis on “security” from Xi’s regime shows the ruling class themselves are bracing for huge resistance ahead.
The United States
- The US, while still being the most powerful capitalist nation, is hardly immune from the multiple and reinforcing crises that are playing out globally. Every month seems to bring a new climate disaster from devastating wildfires to hurricanes. The disastrous mishandling of the pandemic under Trump and Biden led to over one million needless deaths. Far from the ruling class seizing the opportunity to strengthen the healthcare system, today it is in even worse shape. The pandemic also reinforced inequality with the billionaires accumulating ever more wealth while millions were forced to go to food banks. However, some policies introduced as part of the brief turn to Keynesian measures — forced by the scale of the economic crisis of 2020 — reduced poverty, but only temporarily.
- With inflation still running at over 8% and the Federal Reserve steadily increasing interest rates with the aim of cutting demand, intentionally also through increasing unemployment, all signs point towards a serious economic slowdown. However, with the world’s main reserve currency, the US is uniquely able to export some of its economic problems to the rest of the world. This can be combined at a certain stage with a “flight to quality” with capital returning to the safe haven of US treasury bonds to escape the global storm. But if the global downturn also becomes a serious crisis of the financial markets, the US will not escape a deep recession. And there are certainly numerous bubbles waiting to burst and already indications that the property sector is slowing down rapidly.
- The US has experienced deep political polarization which first emerged in the wake of the 2008–9 crisis. Both the support for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, as we explained, were at a certain level reflective of a revolt against neoliberalism. In the case of Trump this was combined with a toxic appeal to nativism and misogyny. Trumpism has normalized far-right ideas for millions even if the far right as an organized force is still small. Right-wing conspiracy theories, including the denial of the outcome of the 2020 election, remain strong in the base of the Republican Party. An increasing section of its elected officials are committed to taking more extreme measures in the future to overturn election results that don’t suit them.
- The Democrats have since January 2021 controlled the White House and both Houses of Congress. Biden came in promising to govern in the spirit of FDR and the New Deal including funding an expansion of social programs, working towards a green transition, and even expanding union rights. But in practice what has been delivered to working people is extremely meagre. The Dobbs decision of the reactionary Supreme Court which overturned Roe v Wade exposed the whole political system for millions of enraged people as they saw how the Democratic Party has completely failed to defend even core rights that are supported by the majority of the population and to which they are supposedly committed.
- Despite their failure to defend abortion rights, breaking a series of other campaign promises, and rampant inflation eating into wages on their watch, the Democrats did better than expected in the midterms. They maintained and slightly strengthened their control of the Senate while narrowly losing control of the House of Representatives. A key factor was anger at the Dobbs ruling which the Republicans are blamed for as well as the rejection by independent voters of the party’s continued close association with Trump. The outcome was interpreted as a setback for Trump which is true, but it would be very wrong to conclude that either he or his wing of the party has been decisively defeated. As of right now he remains the frontrunner to be the Republican presidential nominee for the 2024 election. And the hard right in the new House is clearly prepared to use its votes to force concessions while the Squad boasts of their loyalty to the Democratic leadership. This will also worsen political dysfunction in Washington and open the space for the Trumpian wing of the party to make gains.
- The past few years have witnessed a series of important labour struggles in the US beginning with the teachers’ revolt of 2018–9 and continuing with the organizing drives in Starbucks and Amazon. While the organizing drive in coffee has largely stalled, the struggle in Amazon may be heating up. As with the victory at the JFK8 facility in Staten Island in April 2022, further organizing victories could have a massive galvanizing effect. Other battles loom on the horizon, especially the contract fight at UPS in 2023. There are 360,000 UPS workers organized in the Teamsters. This key union has a new leadership which came into office promising to take a more fighting approach. The UPS and Amazon fights underline the central role of the logistics sector in the redevelopment of a fighting labour movement in the US. They also underline the critical role of a leadership which bases itself on a class-struggle strategy. There have been many reform or left leaderships that have proven unequal to the task in the recent period.
- An important question is the degree to which the coming recession cuts across the class struggle. This partly depends on how serious the recession is. But as we have pointed out, even in the case of a deep recession, the “stunning effect” is likely to be less than before, because of the experience of 2008–9 as well as 2020. This will be the third recession in less than 15 years.
- In 2020, after several months of lockdown, the second wave of the multiracial Black Lives Matter movement exploded onto the streets in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and reflecting the massive discontent among the youth generally. This movement, with its challenge against the racist state repression and police, had a radical edge which could have been further developed, but it also had no effective leadership or developed program and did not succeed in building ongoing democratic structures. The limited concrete gains made by the movement have since been largely rolled back. An ensuing sense of disappointment also had a dampening effect on wider social struggle. Continued brutal racial oppression is sowing the seeds for future explosions. Hard lessons from the previous iterations of BLM can result in a more advanced consciousness amongst a layer, including amongst Black working-class youth who have a key role to play in the revolutionary socialist movement.
- However, we did see a relatively significant wave of demonstrations against the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v Wade, even if limited compared with the 2017 Women’s March, but which could have been on a far bigger scale given the level of anger. This was partly blocked by the rotten role of the mainstream liberal feminist organizations, but it also reflected a questioning of the capacity of mass movements to change things which are reinforced by the serious weaknesses of the existing left.
- Specifically, Bernie Sanders’ capitulation in the 2020 primary to Biden has had lasting effects. Now the authority of Sanders and even more so AOC have been seriously dented. This demonstrates the disastrous effects of the popular frontist approach that the elected soft-reformist left adopted, allegedly to address the danger of Trumpism. The price for admission to Biden and Pelosi’s “team” in the new Congress was to drop their own program which despite limitations was enormously popular and galvanized millions. They limited themselves to supporting Biden’s program which Biden then didn’t fight for and they abandoned any pretence of independently mobilizing working people for any demands whatsoever. The results, to paraphrase Trotsky speaking of the Popular Front of the mass workers’ parties with the liberal bourgeoisie in Spain, were demobilizing and demoralizing.
- The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) which provided cover for Bernie and the Squad and also foreswore any element of mobilizing people on an independent basis has predictably declined both in membership and influence. Radicalized young people coming into activity now do not see it as the natural place to go. This is a drastic turnaround from 2016–2020 when the DSA grew to nearly 100,000 members based on its support for Bernie’s campaigns and the desire of a huge number of young people to build an organization that could continue that fight. We did not have a sectarian approach and correctly engaged with both Bernie campaigns and with the DSA. But we also warned that the focus on trying to turn the Democratic Party into a vehicle for working people’s interests was doomed.
- All of these are real problems and cannot be papered over. But the developments in the workplaces and the protests around Dobbs show that there is massive potential for struggle if a clear lead is given. The very real whip of counterrevolution and the total inadequacy of the Democrats mean that the next wave of struggle will start on a higher level. A positive element is that there are no longer any significant illusions among young people of “reforming” the Democrats as there were between 2016 and 2020. This also points to the critical role of revolutionaries in drawing out and popularizing the key lessons from the victories and defeats of the recent period.
- South Asia is in the throes of a whirlwind of crisis of severe proportions. Narendra Modi’s government is bragging about riding one of the top-performing economies in the world, but as the saying goes, “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed people are kings”. The fact that a country that has slipped in the Global Hunger Index for the third straight year in a row, that is facing its worst unemployment figures in half a century and the biggest capital outflows since the global financial crisis of 2008 is economically outperforming its neighbours serves to highlight the sheer economic catastrophe facing the entire region.
- All countries of South Asia are grappling to varying degrees with slowing growth, soaring inflation, widening current account deficits, depreciating currencies and declining foreign exchange reserves, and this is even before the full impact of a global recession has made itself felt. The power and energy crisis affecting Bangladesh, which left 140 million people (almost the entire country) in the dark for seven hours last October due to a monumental power grid failure, reflects in a nutshell the region’s vulnerability to global shocks, but also the dilapidated infrastructure that prevails in large parts of the region.
- Pakistan and Sri Lanka, in particular, are in the midst of economic quagmires. Five out of six Sri Lankan families are now regularly skipping meals while in Pakistan, 45 % of agricultural land has been destroyed by the recent floods, one of the world’s most horrific climate events in recent history. The floods alone could drive between 5.8 and 9 million additional people into poverty according to the World Bank, and are provoking a massive spread of deadly diseases. This is a harbinger of what is coming in a region that scientists have for years predicted would become a prime hotspot for climate-induced disasters, from deadly heat waves and extreme droughts to the melting of glaciers and increasingly less predictable and more dangerous monsoons.
- The floods in Pakistan have aggravated the country’s already acute political and economic crisis; the anger of the masses, already grappling with unprecedented hikes in food and energy prices and IMF-imposed austerity, has been heightened against a hopelessly corrupt and plundering political establishment. The worst-hit provinces also happen to be Sindh and Balochistan, where feelings of national oppression run deep and pro-independence sentiments had been gathering momentum for quite some time even before this catastrophe.
- A resurgence of sectarian violence is also taking hold in parts of the country. Total terrorism-related incidents have reached their highest level since 2017, and deadly attacks by the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) have provoked in response some of the largest protests ever in the northern Swat valley. In the context of the already deep political unpopularity facing the Shehbaz Sharif-led coalition that replaced Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government in April 2022, all these elements could pave the ground for a return to power of Khan, who still commands a significant base of support, especially among the urban middle class (provided a new arrangement can be made with the army top brass)— or even for an outright military takeover.
- Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is leading an unstable and fragmented coalition made up of 13 parties which does not control any of the country’s four provinces. Reflecting a global trend, the region as a whole is witnessing a sharp erosion of support for the main capitalist forces that had dominated the political landscape for decades. Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sri Lankas’ President, is a member of the United National Party (UNP), which used to be one of the two dominant parties of the country’s ruling class. This party had 106 MPs before the last general elections in 2020 — now it has only one!
- The existential travails facing the Congress Party in India, which is jumping from one internal crisis to another, points in the same direction. In recent years it has faced a series of electoral debacles, defections of senior leaders and mass resignations of membership. In power in twelve states ten years ago, it now only rules in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. By taking digs at billionaires and trying to appeal to the youth, the marginalized, the women and the poor, Rahul Gandhi’s months-long “unite India march” represents an attempt to rebuild a viable opposition to the BJP, and an understanding by the more sober Congress strategists that striking at the centre will only drive India’s “Grand Old Party” into complete oblivion.
- From the nationwide anti-CAA protests to the one year-long farmers’ movement, from the Adivasis fighting against corporate land grabs to the militant sectorial strikes regularly breaking out across the country, there is no shortage of struggles in India. However, the failure of the trade union bureaucracy to capture that potential and the absence of a cohesive and credible working-class political opposition to the BJP, under conditions of ever-deepening social inequality and desperation, has also facilitated the ratcheting up of state authoritarianism and chauvinist provocations by the ruling party and by the more radical Hindu supremacist far-right outfits gravitating in its shadow, particularly in the northern “Hindi belt” states. This has made India both a social and communal tinderbox, in which explosive struggles and brutal communal violence can break out in the next period.
- The attempts by the central government to push through its majoritarian agenda, including the use of Hindi in non-Hindi-speaking states, has also helped revive defensive feelings of regional identities in response, as is the case in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. The national question in the South, in particular, could take a more pronounced character in the future in this context, especially as the coming demographic reconfiguration of the seats allocated in the Lok Sabha (Parliament) is bound to benefit the northern and central states, where the BJP is stronger.
- Since the Modi regime first came to power in 2014, it has presided over a number of crises, such as the demonetization fiasco and the disastrous mishandling of the pandemic. A number of massive general strikes have taken place. Yet, the absence of a working-class political alternative to the BJP and the corresponding failure in the trade union leadership has meant that the BJP regime has not only survived eight years at the head of the central government, but has consolidated its power in state legislatures in significant parts of the country. This strengthening of its electoral base has gone hand in hand with a systematic ramping up of fundamentalist rhetoric in the social sphere, an increase in lynchings of and violence against Muslims, Dalits, and other minorities, and blatant retaliatory actions against prominent activists. In the case of the Trump administration in the United States, while the ruling class saw a certain value with Trump, they were always concerned about the instability his administration represented. In contrast, large sections of the ruling class, state institutions, and the media are at this moment mostly united around the BJP-RSS agenda, as exemplified by a state court’s upholding of the hijab ban. These developments underline the danger of a far-right, authoritarian regime becoming more entrenched if the multi-ethnic Indian working class is not able to develop a coherent alternative in time.
Region caught in the vortex of the new Cold War
- After the flaring up of deadly violence between Chinese and Indian troops along their disputed border in Eastern Ladakh in April 2020, Modi’s India, which had been eyed for years by the White House as a strategic bulwark to contain China’s regional ambitions, accelerated its swing towards US imperialism and undertook a series of protectionist measures aimed at curbing the influence of Chinese companies on the Indian market. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which took inter-imperialist conflict into overdrive, India (still the largest importer of Russian weaponry in the world) pulled the brake on jumping too quickly into one camp, and has tried walking a tightrope between the two sides.
- India’s balancing act will be subjected to further contradictory pressures and challenges in the future, connected to the larger and escalating dynamics of the Cold War. If the relationship between India and China might have phases of detente, the long-term and dominant trend is likely to be one of sharpening competition between the two countries, as a subplot to the New Cold War. While partial disengagement has taken place in Ladakh, the military infrastructure development has progressed further across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and tens of thousands of troops continued to be deployed on both sides. India is trying hard to sell itself as a reliable alternative production hub for Western corporations who are looking at ways to diversify their supply chains away from China. India was also the only country in South Asia which refused to publicly reaffirm its commitment to the “One-China policy” in the aftermath of the last sabre-rattling episode in the Taiwan strait.
- In addition, a looming power struggle between China and India is already raging in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, and the Maldives. More generally, a vast “war of position” full of twists and turns is underway across South Asia, with the US, China, India and to a lesser degree Pakistan, manoeuvring to strengthen their geopolitical foothold, and less influential countries being sandwiched by these global and regional imperialist powers.
- The Chinese regime’s intention to continue disputing US influence in Pakistan by consolidating its alliance with “China’s ‘hardcore’ friend and reliable brother” (according to a top Chinese Foreign Affairs official), given the latter’s long-standing rivalry with India, is another factor that could send back India-China relations on a rockier path. The disputed region of Kashmir, at the crossroads of the competing interests of the region’s “big three”, could become a bigger flashpoint of military tensions over the next period.
Sri Lanka rocked by revolutionary upheavals
- In Sri Lanka, after a pronounced pro-China turn under the Rajapaskas, both India and the US are intensifying efforts to counter China’s influence amidst the economic and debt crisis, including through the use of financial assistance and of Colombo’s dreadful human rights record as tools of geopolitical blackmail.
- The intensity and speed of the revolutionary upheavals that rocked the island in the course of 2022 —which involved the first general strike in 42 years and the first Hartal in 69 years— are a paradigm of the explosive phases of social and political acceleration that socialists should ready themselves for in this new era. The scenes of people occupying major state buildings and of a once-powerful genocidal President fleeing the country in haste will have left indelible marks in the minds of millions of toilers around the world.
- However, the state has since used the political confusion and prevarications at the head of the “Aragalaya” movement to engage in a determined counter-revolutionary fightback. The protesters’ encampment has been brutally suppressed. Thousands of protesters, including union and student leaders, have been arrested and held under draconian charges, and parts of Colombo are now labelled “high security zones” where protests are banned. As Wickremsinghe has no stable social base to speak of, he is increasingly forced to lean on the army and the state apparatus to maintain himself in power, implement the battery of wide-ranging austerity attacks demanded by the IMF, and prepare for the mass struggles that are bound to re-emerge in the coming months.
- This can only be stopped by mobilizing the independent power of the working class via an escalating program of economic and political demands that points towards socialist conclusions, while also addressing the specific oppression of the Tamil community and seeking the support of workers and the poor internationally.
- Meanwhile, Southeast Asia, which bears most scars from the military proxy wars of Western Imperialism and Stalinism during the historic Cold War, is seeing rising tensions as a key arena in the US-China inter-imperialist struggle, and in the context of growing economic and social instability. Beijing’s expanded trade relations and grip over the region and the increased military assertiveness in the South China Sea have propelled the Biden administration to attempt a fightback, as expressed in open geostrategic policy statements, in the hosting of the summit with the ASEAN bloc in May 2022, and the integration of some of the latter’s countries in Indo-Pacific-Economic Forum IPEF. Nevertheless, the Chinese economic slowdown is another factor likely to increase division among the region’s ruling classes, with pro-China and pro-US wings embodying different strategies for the neo-colonial regimes, which so far attempt to manoeuvre between the imperialist superpowers.
- In the Philippines, the former president Duterte’s boasted “Pivot to China”, which developed even while Beijing was increasing its military aggression in the South China Sea, was quickly forced into a retreat, including the reinstatement of the US-Philippines Visiting Force Agreement (VFA) and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) — agreements with the past colonial occupier of the archipelago. His political heir, “Bongbong” Marcos, is playing instead with a rhetoric of “neutrality”, while courting Saudi Arabia and UAE for investments. At the moment, the region sustains some economic growth, but it has been already shaken with inflationary pressures, with Laos shooting up to over 30% annualized, with Myanmar not far behind. After the pandemic already tossed 5 million people in the region into extreme poverty and erased over 9 million jobs in 2021, according to the Asian Development Bank, and in the face of more devastating floods and typhoons, a potential global slump would cut across foreign trade, capital investments, remittances, while indebted governments would be restrained in terms of fiscal stimulus.
- The symbolic return to power of the notorious super-rich Marcos family in the Philippines, almost four decades after their removal by the “People Power” revolution of 1986, has underlined that Duterte, like his counterparts globally, was not just a passing episode. The rise of right-wing populism and authoritarianism is a rightward channelled expression of massive rejection of the empty, shattered, liberal promises of capitalist “democracy”. But as elsewhere, illusions in this direction are rapidly challenged. The acute living conditions and dark prospects for the masses render government moves to narrow any democratic space an explosive gamble for the ruling classes in this period. The music of the future is bold, escalated, mass resistance and challenges against the capitalist regimes in the region, as implied in the early chapters in this Age of Disorder, from the democratic protests in Thailand, representing an incipient, unprecedented challenge to the monarchy, to the experience of the workers-led revolutionary uprising in Myanmar.
- Latin America is a region where the multiple elements of the global crisis and the main characteristics of the period we are going through are sharply manifested. The region was the scene of some of the worst consequences of the pandemic and the global economic crisis with increased inequality, poverty, and hunger. It is also a striking example of the instability and political and social polarization that mark the current moment, including the rise of new left-wing forces, but also the threatening presence of the extreme right.
- Some of the most significant mass movements and popular rebellions we have witnessed in the last period have taken place in the region. In the same way, we have had, in many cases, the institutionalization of these processes with new “progressive” governments being elected and making evident the limits of solutions that do not break with the capitalist order.
Economic, social and health crisis
- The severity of the pandemic and the worsening of the economic and social situation are factors that have fed off each other. After the economic collapse of 2020 and the subsequent fragile recovery, the current scenario is one of economic slowdown, with the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) projecting growth of only 1.4% in the region for 2023, in a context of inflation and public deficits. Many countries in the region will be affected by the slowdown of the Chinese and the US economies and its effects on their exports.
- Fiscal adjustment policies and monetary tightening are being used to offset high inflation and growth in public spending during the worst period of the pandemic. The debt crisis that is accelerating due to rising interest rates in the USA and Europe is a central factor of the crisis in countries like Argentina, Ecuador, Honduras and others and is used as a pressure factor for the adoption of policies that attack social rights with terrible effects on the poorest people.
Political polarization and “progressive” governments under pressure
- This crisis scenario makes any attempt at political stabilization in the region unfeasible, stimulates an increasing polarization and puts back on the agenda the perspective of mass movements.
- The electoral victories of political forces considered “progressive” in countries like Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Honduras and Chile, can only be understood by taking into account the mass struggles, social explosions and popular rebellions that we have seen, especially since 2019.
- The political wear and tear of right-wing governments and their neoliberal policies was expressed mainly in the streets and, from there, also at the ballot box. The strength of the masses has been able to resist coups, as in Bolivia in 2019, and authoritarian and repressive governments such as those of Piñera in Chile and Iván Duque in Colombia and, with less intensity and so far, that of Bolsonaro in Brazil.
- New mass movements continue to explode in countries still governed by the right, as we saw recently in Ecuador and Haiti. But mass protests and struggles have continued to happen in countries governed by the centre-left as well.
- These governments are already facing a very different situation from the one seen during the first cycle of “progressive” governments in the early 2000s. There will no longer be the relatively favourable conditions for redistributive policies that existed during the commodities boom.
- There is no room for meaningful reforms within the current order. Meeting popular demands would require cutting to the flesh the privileges and interests of the ruling class. This can only be done on the strength of the mass movement and, decisively, with the working class at the helm of the levers of the economy, expropriating social production from private ownership, with a socialist perspective of rupture with the current order.
- In the absence of revolutionary political leaderships to lead the implementation of a revolutionary program, many of the new “progressive” Latin American governments are already facing political crises and serious threats, even opening space for the reaction of extreme right-wing forces that are increasingly occupying the space of what was the traditional neoliberal right.
Peru — radicalised mass resistance against the coup that led to the fall of Castillo
- Peru is one of the most striking examples of this process. Here, the former teachers’ union leader Pedro Castillo won the elections in June 2021 on a left-wing platform. He initially defeated the ultra-right represented by Keiko Fujimori and managed to take office despite coup attempts at that moment, only to be finally removed in the 7 December 2022 parliamentary coup by the right-wing, obstructionist congress. After two requests for Castillos’s impeachment presented by the right-wing opposition in the first 14 months, the third request provoked a rupture in the situation. In fact, a parliamentary coup overthrew Castillo from the presidency, arrested him and transferred power to vice-president Dina Boluarte, who acts in agreement with the right-wing in the Congress and with the ruling classes.
- The pretext for the parliamentary coup against Castillo was his desperate attempt, on the verge of the vote for a new impeachment, to dissolve Congress, declare an emergency government and call new elections. However, Castillo had significantly lost his popular support because of the shift to the right in his policies. From the beginning, Castillo chose to conduct his government along lines that would not frighten the ruling class.
- After the fall of Castillo, protests and mass mobilisations have spread throughout the country, despite the strong repression that has already caused more than 50 deaths. Even though they distrust Castillo and his shift to the right, millions of workers, peasants, and indigenous people do not accept Dina Boluarte as president, and even less so the Congress with a right-wing majority. The main slogans raised in the mobilisations are for the closure of Congress, the calling of new elections and the opening of a constituent process to repeal the 1993 Constitution adopted under the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori.
- Instead of appealing to the mass movement and reaffirming his campaign pledges, which pointed to the nationalization of the mining companies and the installation of a constituent assembly, Castillo continues to try to reach an understanding with the ruling class and imperialism. But all these attempts have failed miserably. When he finally declared an intention to launch a constituent assembly, it was too little, too late and too weak, without any preparations of the masses for a crucial battle — instead, he turned to an absurd and futile reliance on the capitalist state’s armed forces to allow the actual materialization of a constituent assembly.
- The centre of the politics of the revolutionary socialists in Peru is to encourage and support the masses in the struggle against the current illegitimate government of Dina Boluarte and the right-wing Congress. The victory of this mass movement can only come if it adopts a socialist strategy and programme. Together with the rescue of the demands abandoned by Pedro Castillo, such as the nationalisation of the mining companies and the change to the Constitution, they must be linked to a socialist project. A popular constituent assembly, of a revolutionary character, organised at the base with committees of workers and the organised and mobilised people (very different from the limited constitutional convention that we have seen in Chile) would create the basis to meet the popular demands and change the political and economic system — the only way to get Peru out of the permanent crisis in which it finds itself.
Argentina — Fernández outsources government to serve markets
- In Argentina, governed since December 2019 by the Peronists Alberto Fernández as president and Cristina Kirchner as vice-president, there is a deep political, economic and social crisis. With more than 40% of the population in poverty, inflation expected to reach almost 100% in 2022, a foreign exchange crisis, the country is on the verge of not being able to pay its foreign debt again.
- The agreement with the IMF, which postpones the payment of 45 billion dollars of debt, has not resolved the problem. The political and social price of the measures imposed by the IMF is too high. The economy minister who signed the agreement was forced to resign and his replacement lasted only 24 days in office. The new minister appointed by Fernández, the former president of the Chamber of Deputies Sergio Massa, is a right-wing politician who has now become a super-minister. With Massa, the Argentine government takes an even deeper turn to the right in search of the markets’ confidence.
- Faced with the crisis of the Peronist government and a traditional right-wing that is also worn out since the tragedy represented by the previous government of Mauricio Macri, what we are seeing is the growth of extreme right-wing alternatives, as in the case of MP Javier Milei, who is already putting himself forward as a presidential candidate in the 2023 elections.
- The strength of the Argentine working class, including the trade union and “Piquetero” movement, the women’s movement, the youth etc are decisive factors in this process, despite bureaucratic misleadership. There is also room for a radical left, one independent of the government, as the votes of the Left and Workers’ Front (FIT — Unidad) have shown. The FIT-U and other sectors of the left and combative social movements must promote the struggle against the policy of “adjustment” resulting from the agreement with the IMF and raise the banner of non-payment of the debt together with nationalization of the financial system and key sectors of the economy. It is necessary to build a working-class, socialist political opposition to the government of Fernandez/Cristina/Massa and also to combat the rise of the extreme right.
Chile — the defeat of the constituent process and shift to the right by Boric
- In Latin America, the elections of new centre-left or “progressive” governments have represented defeats for the right and the ultra-right and positively impacted the working class. But in practically all cases they have also become mechanisms of containment and institutionalization of the potentially revolutionary elements present in the popular uprisings since 2019.
- This situation can be seen in countries such as Colombia, which was the scene of a powerful mass movement in 2021 and ended up electing the centre-left candidate Gustavo Petro in June 2022. But the case of Chile is emblematic and carries numerous lessons.
- To contain the revolutionary potential of the October 2019 popular rebellion in Chile, Piñera’s right-wing government and almost all political parties signed a “peace pact” that provided for the beginning of a constituent process, but kept Piñera in the presidency and imposed a series of limits and institutional control mechanisms on that process. Despite this, the will to carry the process of change through to the end was reaffirmed several times by the vast majority of the population.
- The defeat of the draft new Constitution in the September 2022 plebiscite, in turn, was first and foremost the result of wear and tear, dissatisfaction and frustration with the limits of the constituent process. It was also, for many, a protest against the limits of the Boric government. It was not simply a turn to the right in the country. At the same time as the “rejection” of the new constitutional text received 62% of the vote, polls indicate that 68% of Chileans continue to believe that a new constitutional charter is necessary and 72% are unhappy with the situation in the country.
- Three years after the popular rebellion of 2019 and only seven months into the new government, Gabriel Boric saw his popularity drop to 27% support as a result of his status quo policies. Despite the rhetoric in defence of human rights, political prisoners from the 2019 uprising have not been released and those who carried out the repression remain unpunished. Boric has maintained the militarization of the Mapuche region of Walmapu and continued the repression of social movements.
- The government’s most recent capitulation was its connivance with the approval of the Trans-Pacific Treaty (TPP11) which attacks the sovereignty of the Chilean people at the service of large transnational corporations. Boric has also aligned himself with US imperialism on major international issues, including the war in Ukraine.
- The new constitutional text contained positive points, like the basic defence of social rights like health, education, housing, labour rights and the right to abortion. However, it did not guarantee their implementation, giving the conservative Chilean Congress the responsibility to regulate these principles. Furthermore, the Constitutional Convention did not approve structural measures necessary to guarantee these rights, such as the nationalization of copper and other natural resources, for example. Of course, it would have ultimately been a significant but limited reform, within the framework of crisis-ridden capitalism, which no legal text could metaphysically adapt for resolution of the burning social crises.
- The right and extreme right knew how to take advantage of the frustration and the weakness of the left. They used all the mechanisms of media manipulation, exploited issues relating to public security, used fake news and ideological terrorism and went on the offensive against the new constitutional text, against the government and the whole spirit of change of October 2019 and obtained a victory.
- Despite this, the strength of the Chilean October 2019 has not been crushed by the forces of reaction and is still present. In the fight against the extreme right, it will be necessary to build a political alternative of the working class, women and youth, in alliance with the Mapuche people and all the oppressed, an alternative that raises a socialist programme as the only possible way out.
Mexico, recession, and the erosion of reformism
- In Mexico, four years after his historic electoral triumph, Obrador still holds great authority in the movement. However, it is increasingly clear that criticism of his policies among different sectors has grown. But especially the temporary character of the political authority of reformism is expressed in the profound discrediting and disavowal of Morena, which is experiencing a deep internal crisis with a growing internal dispute over the candidacy for 2024. This displacement and loss of authority of Morena pose the opening of a growing space for the left, opening opportunities even for us.
- In this scenario, the multiple crises that are unfolding worldwide will be of great importance, with the economic crisis and the economic recession that the United States is likely to face in 2023 being particularly relevant. 30% of Mexico’s GDP depends on exports, 80% of which are destined for the North American market. Despite Obrador’s optimistic discourse, since the middle of the year various analysts have pointed out the enormous risk that the Mexican economy will face.
- In this scenario, since the middle of last year we have seen a series of workers’ struggles for wage increases to reverse the effects of inflation on their wages and living conditions. From the Telmex workers’ strike of a couple of hours at the end of July to the strike at Arcelor Mittal in Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán, or the threatened strike by workers at the Volkswagen plant in Puebla, these are examples of a reactivation of the workers’ movement outside, and in some cases even in the face of, the conciliatory policies of the Morena and 4T government. This represents a lesson for thousands of workers about the basic content of reformism.
- This, of course, has had and will have an impact on the elections in different states in 2023 and the presidential election in 2024. While Morena is still the favourite, the election of right-wing elements as Morena candidates and the total absence of internal democracy ensure new bitter victories or even outright defeats, which will impact the mood of the masses. The defeat of the Electricity Reform is one of its most dramatic examples. At the same time, this year will define Morena’s presidential candidacy for 2024, which will almost certainly be won by Claudia Sheinbaum, who represents the left wing of reformism in Morena. It is therefore essential to develop a programme of transitional demands that will allow us to build a bridge with the millions of people who will welcome Sheinbaum’s candidacy, while at the same time pointing out that her election will not be enough, that it is necessary to fight and mobilise to win these reforms while building our own independent profile around a socialist programme.
Lula’s Brazil and the persistence of the far-right threat
- The outcome of the Brazilian presidential elections is a decisive factor for the dynamics of Latin American processes. Lula’s victory represents relief for millions of workers and a strong setback for the Bolsonarist project, but it will not succeed in eliminating the far-right from the Brazilian political scene.
- Bolsonarism showed strength by obtaining 49.1% of the votes in the second round and losing by a difference of less than 2% in relation to Lula. This narrow margin of victory opens up conditions for sectors of Bolsonarism to denounce the electoral process and, despite the electoral defeat, remain a threat, also in the streets.
- The only way to contain the strength of the extreme right is the mobilization of the working class around a program that unifies the banners of social transformation with democratic demands and points to radical changes. The problem is that this is exactly what Lula’s PT and the allied parties did not do in the electoral campaign.
- The strategy of building a broad front around Lula, uniting everyone from PSOL to the traditional neoliberal right (as in the case of Lula’s vice-president, Geraldo Alckmin), proved to be electorally ineffective and a disaster from the point of view of a leftist program. In the campaign, Lula made all possible concessions to the capitalists and to right-wing politicians to gain their support against Bolsonaro. In doing so he mischaracterized the left, gave ammunition to Bolsonarism that denounced traditional politicians, and promoted confusion in the consciousness of broad sectors.
- The support obtained by Bolsonaro, despite the criminal and catastrophic handling of the pandemic, did not come about exclusively based on a far-right, racist, violent, and authoritarian policy. These politics have a base among significant sectors of the white middle class, mainly men in the south and southeast of the country. But the broadening of support for Bolsonaro has occurred for two fundamental reasons.
- Firstly, because he assumed for himself, in a cynical and obviously deceitful way, unimaginable social measures for a government with an ultraliberal bias, such as the increase and expansion of “Auxílio Brasil”, the emergency aid package, and other similar measures. But the other, more decisive, reason is the enormous wear and rejection that the PT has accumulated after its experience in government.
- Bolsonaro’s high vote does not mean, therefore, the impossibility of advancing the left and social struggles in the country. On the contrary, the Bolsonaro threat still present could encourage more and more sectors of the working class and other oppressed sectors to learn lessons about the limits of the PT and bet on a path of struggle and not conciliation and maintenance of order.
- The situation in Brazil, as it has unfolded over the course of the elections and beyond, has confirmed the unique position defended by ISA both within PSOL and in the wider labour and social movements, which emphasized the need to preserve the political independence of the working class in the struggle against Bolsonaroism — while adopting great tactical flexibility as well as sensitivity vis-a-vis the broad layers who saw Lula and the PT as the “only option” to defeat Bolsonaro. This position was the subject of intense internal debate within our section, a debate with vital lessons for the whole international. Our principled position is also rooted in a perspective which understands that the growth of the far right is a deep-seated process which will not be resolved by one election, but requires a long term perspective and strategy of class struggle for a political alternative.
- We must warn that the impossibility of “progressive” governments meeting popular demands without promoting deep and radical changes could open up space for recovery of right-wing or extreme right-wing forces in the region. At the same time, the strength demonstrated in the mass mobilisations could also create conditions for a recomposition of the left on a more radical basis, learning from experience the limits of these “progressive” governments and basing itself on new struggles of the working class and oppressed sectors.
- The invasion of the Congress, Supreme Court, and presidential palace by a Bolsonarist horde on January 8 was intended to trigger a coup movement that would spread across the states and stimulate an intervention by the armed forces. The failure of this movement shows that there were no conditions for a coup d‘état at that moment, but it shows that Bolsonarism will continue with its disruptive role throughout Lula’s government.
- The defeat of the coup plotters on January 8 will imply, in the short term, a setback for Bolsonarism, including rejection by public opinion and criminal liability for many of its supporters. Moreover, it helps the Lula government to reinforce the idea of a national union (i.e. a repactuation (rearrangement) with the right and the bourgeoisie) against threats to “democracy”. However, the events of January 8 will remain, in the medium and long term, as a symbol and reference for the far right when it mobilises again, particularly at a time of greater crisis and wear and tear on the Lula government. Without the punishment of Bolsonaro himself, capitalists and the high military officers involved or conniving with the coup action, the political and military crisis will persist and will manifest itself again in the future.
- The only way to prevent the return of the extreme right is to mobilize working-class organisations independently of the government and around a programme that links the essential and immediate demands for democratic rights, wages, jobs, housing, education and health, the repeal of all the attacks and counter-reforms imposed by Bolsonaro and previous governments, together with measures of an anti-capitalist and socialist nature.
- The mass uprising that has rocked Iran has been the latest link in the regional system to produce a revolutionary crisis, after over a decade of processes of revolution and counter-revolution, that have been more condensed and generalized compared to other regions, ever since the precursor ‘Green Movement’ in Iran in 2009 and the mighty explosion of the revolutionary wave of 2011. As we’ve explained also in the aftermath of ensuing phases of bloody counter-revolutions, the ruling classes have been profoundly undermined, and the global and regional generalized conditions, in the context of global crises of capitalism and imperialism, prevent them from scorching mass consciousness with a decisive deterence that would facilitate a long-term equilibirium for their social order. Revolutionary processes are bound in this historical era to be generally protracted and re-assert themselves, generally on a higher level, expressing digested collective experience, of recent battles, beyond national borders, and potentially even of retying the knot of history with learnt historic experience. Fearful of new mass revolts, the ruling elites all around the region are stepping up state repression and authoritarianism.
- While the outcome of the Iranian uprising remains uncertain, no doubt can be had about its historical significance. Following the important previous rounds of popular movements that have challenged the regime in the developing process of a new Iranian revolution, the most recent round — erupting in response to gender oppression, and against the backdrop of national oppression and a severe economic crisis — has been more sustained, more bold and determined, more geographically widespread. It is also a more unapologetically anti-regime uprising than any since the birth of the Islamic Republic.
- While mobilization was extensive, it remained relatively restrained in volume. In January 2023, a certain phase of retreat in the movement developed, under the regime’s counter-revolutionary state-terrorism. However, extensive labour strikes have still rocked the oil industry, spreading across companies and cities, not only as part of an economic struggle for wages, pensions, services and reduced taxes, but also in protest and defiance of the bloody wave of repression against protesters.
- This latest uprising in Iran has seen important elements of organized working-class mobilization, as well as some nascent revolutionary councils. If a decisive outpouring of generalized working-class action does not occur, however, the steam of the movement could begin to ebb at some point, which could provide the regime with the chance for a bloodier counter-offensive. Of course, no mass movement can go on indefinitely, and with the lack of a far-sighted revolutionary leadership up to the task, complex challenges entail, eventually, also phases of lulls and retreats. However, even in that case, the impact these protests have had in shaping the outlook of millions of Iranians, particularly women and young people, means their legacy will remain like burning embers under the ashes, and reignite — just like after the bloodily repressed previous rounds, and, not least, as conditions continue to deteriorate, while not even a single major reform has been won as a concession thus far. The Ayatollahs’ regime may be divided tactically about concessions at this stage, but is definitely conscious that major concessions would not pacify but build the confidence of the advanced sections of the masses that have become irreconcilable with their political regime as such. The regime still relies on actively mobilizing its limited counter-revolutionary social base via false “anti-imperialist” rhetoric and religious demagoguery, but even among this base it’s likely that the recent crisis has increased doubts and divisions.
- The general trajectory is for a drawn-out period of revolution and counter-revolution, with both sides struggling to assert themselves in a decisive way, with the struggle continuing with ups and downs and varying degrees of intensity over a prolonged period of time, during which the overthrow of the regime will remain an inherent possibility.
- The war in Ukraine has been heavily obstructing a scenario of a revival of the Iran nuclear deal and the lifting of the oil embargo and other imperialist economic sanctions that have exacerbated the misery of the masses. While Western imperialism has had an increased thirst for fossil fuels due to energy decoupling, a renewed deal would require the consent of Russian imperialism. The latter, instead, turned to supply Iran with more cash in return for excess military products. This follows the 2021 China-Iran 25-year strategic economic and military agreement. However, this could not overwhelmingly counteract the effects of the US-led economic sanctions.
- The resurgent Israeli military threat against Iranian nuclear facilities, with the previous Israeli government investing heavily in military preparation, has not only been rhetorical. The Israeli regime has been pressurizing US imperialism to escalate pressures against Tehran, economically, “diplomatically”, and via a “credible” military threat, but has also implied it is preparing its own military offensive option. The new Israeli government of Netanyahu and the far-right has been barking louder than before. It cannot be ruled out that it may turn to gamble on such a move even without Washington approval, although this is a far more complex military move than the past Israeli attacks on nuclear facilities in Iraq and Syria and could only disrupt but not torpedo the Iranian regime’s nuclear program, which hasn’t yet crossed into the military sphere. That would be a complicating scenario for regional perspectives, which could easily ignite a regional war, that among other things could assist the Mullah’s regime’s counter-revolutionary efforts in rallying its base against an imperialist attack.
- Bar the Gulf monarchies — for which the global energy crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine has presented opportunities to use their abundant oil and gas reserves in order to assert their position on the world stage — the region has been hit particularly hard by the fallouts from this war, notably because most countries rely very heavily on wheat imports from Russia and Ukraine (to the tune of 80% in the case of Egypt).
- Yet the war has only worsened a situation that was already critical in the first place. According to the Arab Barometer survey, even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in more than half of the countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), over 50% of respondents said they ran out of food before they had money to buy more food. The IMF expects inflation for the region to be 14.1% in 2022 — far above the global average.
- The massive hike in the price of bread was a big factor behind Egypt’s strike wave in 2007–8 — the biggest in the Middle East’s history — which paved the way for the 2011 mass uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s regime. More generally, the rising prices of food and basic products, against the backdrop of scarce job opportunities for heavily oppressed youth, were a central fuel of the revolutionary wave that swept the region at the time.
- As several governments in the region are grappling with spiralling debt, the IMF is pressing them to impose brutal austerity measures in exchange of new loans, including the highly sensitive issue of slashing subsidies on basic goods. In the context of a huge cost-of-living crisis, this could bring millions to a breaking point and bring into question the viability of a number of current regimes and governments.
- The most extreme example is the 3 year economic meltdown in Lebanon, that defaulted in 2020 and reached a tentative agreement with the IMF in April 2022 on a meagre $3 billion in conditional “aid”. The heavily corrupt sectarian-based power-sharing political regime, in a chronic deadlock, implements such measures but would not seize or even scratch the wealth of the ruling elite, even while tax revenues have more than halved since 2019. Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati is a telecom tycoon, the richest man in Lebanon and the 4th in the Arab world. The situation is so grotesque that even the IMF, recognizing that beyond fiscal calculations, any confidence in the taxation system has evaporated, exclaimed: “Under-taxation of the affluent, mainly non-wage earners, weakens revenues, the role of tax policy in income redistribution and tax morale. Shortcomings in corporate taxation should also be addressed”. Of course, the IMF is appealing to increase regressive taxation via VAT and excise on diesel. 80% of the population are officially in poverty, and more than 2 million people, over a third of the population, are faced with food insecurity. Any possible meagre income is turned to dust by the hyper-inflation that skyrocketed to almost 200%. Basic infrastructure, including water and electricity, is highly dysfunctional. The phenomena of child labour and marriage are on the rise. Ordinary people are faced with harsh restrictions on bank withdrawals, and in this dire situation, many have resorted to taking their money themselves by force. The public sector has been rocked with strikes over poverty wages. In particular, teachers mobilized in protests and strikes, including organized protests demanding UNICEF, which preached to bring children back to school, to increase wages and pay in USD to teachers of Syrian refugees. Thus desperation is mixed with militant and insurrectionary elements.
- Since the war in Ukraine, a renewed cycle of protests has already rocked parts of the region. This has included Jordan, Egypt — and also, Libya, a country torn apart by recurrent civil wars over the last decade, where in June 2022 thousands stormed and torched the Parliament in the east, while the capital Tripoli saw large protests against the constant power cuts, the lack of jobs and the increasing prices of basic goods, demanding all ruling elites to quit power. This was the first time the Libyan masses reasserted themselves on the political stage in such a way since the fall of Muammar Gadafi 12 years ago.
- Whilst this explosive movement showed the potential for a collective struggle transcending territorial and tribal divisions, the dire absence of any leadership meant it fizzled out relatively quickly. At present, a power struggle, entangled in a complex web of regional powers’ interests, is yet again ramping up between the leaders of the country’s two competing governments that could break out into wider military clashes and even new, outright civil war.
- The worsening impasse facing the region under the continuation of capitalist relations and the lack of a clear alternative has meant that a layer of the masses, disillusioned by the lack of change after the so-called “Arab Spring”, is looking towards the past. In Libya, some protesters brandished the green flags of the former Gaddafi regime, while in Iraq, reports attest to a significant minority longing for the Saddam Hussein era. In Tunisia, the Free Destourian Party (PDL), an unashamedly pro-Ben Ali party nostalgically extolling the virtues of the pre-revolutionary epoch, is leading the polls, capitalizing on the despair of mostly older people.
- This, though, should not overshadow the fact that all around the region, among the mass of workers and young people the dominant mood is one of deep social anger and rejection of the entire rotten establishment. The extremely low turnout at the elections for a new constitution bolstering Tunisian President Saied’s one-man rule last July (30%) has shown that the strong support the latter had on the streets at the time of his coup one year before, has severely diminished already. Tunisian press columns are now full of references to an imminent social explosion.
- All the while, especially when struggles are at a low ebb and prominent left-wing responses are wanting, tensions can also flare up on reactionary lines. In both Turkey and Lebanon, as working people and the poor are coping with mass inflation, racist scapegoating of Syrian refugees is on the rise, encouraged by ruling elites that are seeking to direct the anger about the deep economic crises away from themselves. In both countries, large-scale deportations of Syrian refugees back to Syria have been initiated against this backdrop.
- In Iraq and Lebanon, the political and institutional crises, paralysis and infighting at the top have reached a new quality. Although unsuccessful, the mass uprisings of 2019 have revealed the scale of boiling rage at the corrupt ruling elites, and the declining social base of the dominant sectarian factions. The shrinking voter turnout at each election in these countries, and the breakthrough of independent candidates associated with the 2019 movement in the last elections (May ‘22) in Lebanon (despite a minority turnout), both show that a growing layer is looking for answers outside of the traditional channels of the sectarian parties and coalitions that have dominated the political scene over the last decades.
- In deeply destabilized regional settings, Israeli capitalism has also been plunging in a more profound political crisis, rooted in the instability of the barbaric occupation, siege, national oppression and colonial expropriation of millions of Palestinians, regional tensions and the relative decline of US imperialism, and an undermined social base for the bourgeois ‘centre’ against the backdrop of a series of social crises. The comeback of Netanyahu in alliance with an emboldened far-right, on the basis of less than half of the votes in the November ‘22 election — the 5th in less than four years — and the worst ever results for the so-called ‘Zionist Left’ represent a new stage in a historic political crisis, with the ruling class further losing control over the political process.
- The judicial authoritarian counter-reform, to scale back Supreme Court powers and concentrate more power in government, is an attempted step in a Bonapartist direction, but more of a caricature of any of its parallels in Turkey or Eastern Europe. Not only opposed by the bulk of the ruling class, who currently regard it as a loss of safety valves, this has also proved unpopular among the base of Netanyahu’s bloc. It has unleashed an unprecedented open power struggle between the government and the Supreme Court, and propelled the bourgeois anti-Netanyahu bloc to turn outside parliament to harness a mood of mass defiance of the government, with mobilizations of over a 100,000 people, the largest in many years.
- The bureaucracy of the General Histadrut has refused to intervene in this, leaving the ground to the bourgeois leadership, which has definitely succeeded, with its narrow, pro-establishment, and national-chauvinist agenda to keep away the more downtrodden strata of the working class and the Arab-Palestinian community.
- The idea of a general strike was brought on the order of the day not by the Histadrut’s right-wing, pro-capitalist, anti-strike leadership, but by the desperate anti-Netanyahu bourgeoisie, that suddenly was compelled to admit, implicitly, the might of organized labour, which it wanted to cynically harness in the battle around its own agenda.
- The cost-of-living crisis is an even greater Achilles heel for this government, pushing even the Hisatdrut’s bureaucracy towards a sluggish but escalated confrontation with the government and big business since last year, with limited protests that nevertheless for the first time in years have mobilized delegations from workplaces for a countrywide struggle.
- The previous Bennett-Lapid “Change Government” coalition collapsed primarily as a result of the disintegrating pressures emanating from the relentless crisis of the occupation regime. In 2022, the “Change Government”, in order to maintain the occupation, killed more Palestinians in the West Bank than any year in the preceding decade of Netanyahu’s governments. In the context of rising national tensions, incidents of indiscriminate attacks against Israelis increased. A space opened for a resurgent Israeli far right to double-down on the jingoist security demagoguery, the logic of “military solution” and state repression for “security”.
- Now, with the Israeli far right having a stronger than ever hold of leverages of power in government, more atrocities are in the making in Gaza, West Bank, East Jerusalem, within the pre-1967 border, and regionally. However, this also entails ramifications for Israeli capitalism, not only in terms of destabilizing effects on the ground, but also as this trajectory is undermining the geostrategic Israeli-Arab “normalization” process, involving military and economic relations, and some collaboration in rivalry against the Iranian regime. Saudi Arabia’s monarchy would find it difficult in current circumstances to break its official stance of conditioning normalization on a recognition of a Palestinian state, despite years of “unofficial normalization”. Tensions have and will inevitably develop between the new Israeli government and other regimes in the region, with or without official relations, in the face of new onslaughts against the Palestinians and around the Al Aqsa Mosque.
- The unpopular Palestinian Authority (PA) under the near 90-year-old autocratic president Abbas is in an ever-deepening crisis of legitimacy. The bite of economic crisis spurred the ‘We Want to Live’ (Bidna N`ish) protests earlier last year, and the rage over the Israeli offensive further emboldened a mood of defiance against Abbas and the PA, ultimately as a subcontractor of the Israeli occupation and capitalism — with the hated “security collaboration” and the economic Paris Protocol. In September, an arrest operation by PA forces in Nablus collided into a fierce youth-led armed protest. In main West Bank Palestinian cities, there’s ferment with elements of popular struggle, together with small cross-faction independent armed youth groupings such as the Nablus-based “Lions’ Den”, the “Hornet’s Nest” in Jenin’s refugee camp, and reportedly similar incipient formations elsewhere. These new formations represent the rise into a determined fightback of a new radicalizing generation, fed up with the false promises of “diplomatic solutions”, taking brave initiatives to address the need for organized struggle and self-defence, ultimately aspiring to a revolution of national and social liberation. Alongside partisan warfare, and integration with popular struggle mobilizations, seemingly there have also been elements turning to address state terrorism and settlers’ attacks via methods of indiscriminate attacks, and they’ve faced crackdowns. This highlights dangers and the importance of strengthening preparation by drawing lessons from past battles, particularly when phases of mass struggle, self-organized via popular committees, most remarkably in the mighty first Intifada, have effectively challenged the occupation, while isolated secretive militias were suppressed, and methods of individual terrorism have served as a pretext for even more brutal atrocities against the Palestinians.
- The recent period has seen, in response to Israeli state aggressions, the tradition of popular protest strikes as a more prominent feature, alongside an enhanced element of labour strikes in Israeli owned businesses — with the astounding example of the All-Palestinian ‘Dignity Strike’ on both sides of the pre-1967 border in May ’21, and a series of more recent protest strikes. Linking up popular mobilizations with democratic self-organization would enable the movement to better develop strategy and tactics, and to control its own coordinated armed defence, and could assert the methods of collective, class-based resistance.
- The complete failure of an “anyone but” approach in the fight against Netanyahu in Israel carries important political lessons for other countries. This is notably the case for the Left in Turkey, as a section of the pro-Kurdish and left reformist People’s Democratic Party (HDP)’s leadership, around jailed and ex-co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, is in effect arguing in favour of an “anyone but Erdoğan” approach in the coming 2023 Presidential and parliamentary elections. This would mean the HDP backing the main bourgeois opposition candidate, instead of fielding its own and promoting an independent left alternative.
- Of course, the need to finish with Erdoğan’s regime will be a driving element in the mood among many workers and young people. However, some of the six parties that compose the current pro-capitalist opposition bloc (the ‘Nation Alliance’) are objectively to the right of the ruling AKP, have a record of attacking democratic rights (including, ironically, supporting the regime’s lifting of the immunity of the HDP’s own deputies) and of standing up for Turkish chauvinism and for the State’s military operations against the Kurds.
- The HDP could still be prevented from standing —as a regime-led Court indictment is seeking its outright political ban— which might enhance the leadership’s temptation to stand candidates on the list of the main bourgeois parties, rather than as independent ones. If this scenario were to materialise, it would seriously dilute and compromise the HDP’s political identity. Combined with a likely intensified repression from the state, this would seriously set back the process of rebuilding a distinctly left force with a mass audience in Turkey (although the news of the ban could also spark explosions of anger, especially in the Kurdish areas). In these conditions, it is all the more vital and urgent for the HDP, along with the other left-wing parties (like the Workers’ Party of Turkey, TIP), left-leaning unions and pro-Kurdish organisations, to come together to actively resist and mobilise against the HDP’s disbandment, to adopt an independent profile from all the pro-capitalist opposition parties, and to present a fighting program and candidates that can chart a way forward for the working class, the youth and the oppressed, during and after the elections.
- The increased pace of military incursions and airstrikes carried out by the Israeli army on Iranian-backed targets in Syria, the large-scale bombardments into Iraqi Kurdistan by the Iranian regime, the Turkish state’s increasing attacks and bombings against the Kurdish regions of North-East Syria, the renewed risk of armed conflict between Algeria and Morocco over the issue of West Sahara, the escalating military tensions between Greece and Turkey in the Mediterranean Sea all point to the fact that the risks and potential flashpoints for new regional wars are multiplying. This and the growing severity of the climate crisis in the region adds to the urgency of a revolutionary socialist response to take root among the region’s workers, oppressed and poor.
- After a six-month truce, the merciless war in Yemen is raging once again. The Presidential Leadership Council (PLC), formed in April 2022 by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to try and unify the anti-Houthis camp is already riven with crisis and infighting, and has underlined once again that the Saudi and Emirati regimes are not following the same script. This, the rise of terror attacks by Al Qaeda outfits in Southern Yemen and the fact that the Houthis have developed a capacity to stage drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE all show that despite the torrent of destruction and horrors unleashed on Yemen, the Saudi-led war is no closer to achieving any of its aims.
- From calling Mohamed Bin Salman a pariah to courting him to threatening him with a review of US-Saudi cooperation to granting him legal immunity over Khashoggi’s killing, the relations between Biden’s administration and the Saudi leadership have been on a rocky ride, and exemplify the extreme fluidity of current regional relations in the context of major global geopolitical realignments. As with the talks between Beijing and Riyadh over pricing, some oil sales to China in yuan, the Saudi and Emirati rulers’ collusion with Russia through the Opec+ to cut oil production does not signify the former are decisively moving in the orbit of Russia and China; it is rather a signal that they are using their strategic energy reserves to chart a more independent role for themselves.
Sub Saharan Africa
- Sub-Saharan Africa finds itself at the sharp end of capitalism and imperialism’s global crises. The already extreme levels of inequalities, debt and food insecurity have all been aggravated, first by the pandemic, then by the war in Ukraine (Africa as a whole sourced close to half of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine before that conflict broke out).
- Because of its particular vulnerability to imperialist trade relations and to climate change, it is in sub-Saharan Africa that the effects of the soaring food and energy prices are the most acute in the world. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 33 African countries need external food assistance. Tens of millions of people in the Horn of Africa alone are on the brink of starvation as the effects of a devastating drought are magnified by capitalism’s deadly cocktail of crises and decades of armed conflicts.
- Despite the recent precarious peace deal (arguably a “permanent cessation of hostilities”) concluded between Abiy Ahmed’s central government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the very brutal war in Ethiopia, fed in part by the military assistance provided to the regime by regional actors and imperialist powers including China, Turkey, Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Eritrea, is not over and continues to threaten to tear the country apart, with consequences further afield. Moreover, Tigray is no longer the only military front for the regime, as it is also fighting the re-emergence of an armed insurgency in parts of the Oromia region.
- Most African countries are heavily dependent on the export of raw materials, thus the global recession will land them further severe blows. Combined with the tightening of borrowing conditions on the financial markets, this signals a period of profound economic turmoil and sharpened class antagonism in Africa. A growing number of states are facing the spectre of debt defaults. To make up for the losses, governments across the continent are forcing further impoverishment upon the masses, in what Oxfam has aptly described as “austerity on steroids.”
- Against this background, a series of African countries once hailed as relatively “stable” by bourgeois analysts are shaken by upheavals. This is the case both socially (last year’s protests in Sierra Leone are a case in point) but also politically. Both Burkina Faso and Mali were not so long ago described as among the most politically stable countries of West Africa; both have been rocked by not one but two military coups since 2020. Along with those in Chad, Guinea and Sudan, this multiplication of coups highlights the impasse facing the ruling elites and the growing decomposition of the (already flimsy) bourgeois-democratic forms of rule across the region, where such forms exist. So does the recurrent attempts by incumbent presidents to manipulate constitutions to extend their terms in office, which happened in Côte d’Ivoire in 2020 and which developments now also point to in Senegal and in the Central African Republic.
- In a number of African countries, this decay is reflected also in the increasing resort to street goons, recruited by ruling parties and politicians from the large pool of alienated and unemployed youth and lumpenproletariat, in order to intimidate political opponents and to complement the repressive role of state forces, from the so-called “Zogos” in Liberia to the “microbes” in Côte d’Ivoire.
- On the back of the deepening crisis affecting their rule, the ruling classes also whip up tribalist and xenophobic sentiments, as perhaps most dramatically expressed by the rising tide of state-sponsored scapegoating of poor Black migrants and refugees from other African countries in South Africa.
- These elements point to different ways for the ruling classes to try and contain the same general feature: one of mass disillusionment and boiling anger vis-a-vis the corrupt ruling parties and leaders across the continent. This mood is reflected in all recent elections, like in Senegal —where for the first time ever a ruling coalition now lacks an outright majority in Parliament— or in Kenya —where the presidential election saw one of its lowest turnouts in history.
- In Nigeria, the rapid rise of support for the Labour Party Presidential candidate Peter Obi and of the “Obidient” movement, while full of contradictions (Obi is himself a rich businessman with a background in the establishment), reflects a confused rejection of the two main bourgeois parties, already expressed by the popular slogan “neither PDP nor APC” voiced during the #EndSars movement, which Obi has claimed to support.
- In South Africa, the Tripartite Alliance between the SACP, trade union federation COSATU and the ANC that has secured the ANC’s rule since the end of apartheid is on the brink of collapse as contradictions in the ruling party sharpen rapidly. Delegates to the COSATU Congress in August 2022 refused Gwede Mantashe, former ANC secretary-general, a platform to speak and forced a resolution to vote on staying in the Tripartite Alliance. The refusal to move beyond 3% increases in public service wages demonstrates the inability of the ANC to reconcile its role as representatives of the bosses’ class with its reliance on the working class for votes. Although certain sections of the COSATU leadership try to continue to play the role the ANC relies on them to play — keeping the workers’ discontent stifled and releasing it in a controlled manner — it is becoming more difficult than ever.
- In December 2022, billionaire Cyril Ramaphosa defended his presidency in the turbulent 55th congress of the ANC. Ramaphosa defeated former Minister of Health and ANC Treasurer-General, Zweli Mkhize, despite facing charges and almost resigning over the robbery scandal at his Phala-phala game farm. COSATU, which at least symbolically represents the workers’ voice in the Tripartite Alliance, has been completely excluded from the ANC’s National Executive Committee for the first time. The new ANC leadership has effectively abandoned the veil of the multi-class party it projects itself to be and will reign over the new era of potential coalition governments the ANC will face in order to remain in power.
- The outcome of this congress will not only deepen the crises of the ANC but also that of the main political parties of capitalism, especially the DA and EFF. The growth and electoral gains of these parties in the past decade have been predicated on the incompetent, unapologetic and brazen elements of corruption in Zuma’s administration. However, for the capitalist class and vast sections of the middle-class, Ramaphosa has represented the only viable alternative to that. This has checked the growth of the DA and partly plunged it into its current implosion.
- The so-called Radical Economic Transformation faction around Zuma in the ANC and other populist forces and parties like Operation Dudula and ActionSA use the lack of a genuine working-class alternative to divide workers. Such reactionary elements capitalise on and fuel xenophobic sentiments in the context of mass unemployment and desperation.
- The rampant increase in loadshedding (rolling blackouts) due to looting and corruption in the state owned electricity company ESKOM and failure to plan for increased capacity generation and necessary maintenance will mean more job losses in the context of a ravaging unemployment rate of 43.1% and even further stagnation in economic growth. On top of this, the increases in electricity tariffs of 18.65% announced in January has ignited a massive mood of anger. At point of writing organised labour has failed to seize this moment to put forward positive demands of a rapid rolling out of renewables to meet capacity demands. It is increasingly possible that right-wing liberal parties like the Democratic Alliance will direct the mass dissatisfaction into an accelerated privatisation campaign.
- The ANC’s failures are rapidly increasing and reflective of irreconcilable differences in the ruling party. This means splits in the ruling party and its alliance are on the cards. The current economic situation, along with the class conflicts over public service pay, and trade union led campaigns on the cost of living crisis, means this new period is likely to be characterised by heightened conflicts between the working class and the capitalist class, the latter whose leadership rests with the ANC. It is clear that the only force that can provide a way forward out of the political crisis of the establishment is the organised labour movement.
French imperialism in crisis
- The dramatic spread of violence across the Sahel region over the last decade, compounded by the NATO-led intervention in Libya in 2011 and by “Operation Barkhane” (the military intervention by French forces in the Sahel) from 2014 onwards, has been an important component in fueling the anger of the masses in Western and Central Africa towards civilian regimes which have demonstrably failed to curb the said violence — and in nourishing illusions that the “men in uniform” would handle things differently.
- This points to a continent-wide issue: besides imperialist intervention, the lack of access to land, water and other resources, as well as very high levels of unemployment feed various forms of violence: clashes between herdsmen and crop farmers, the rise of armed banditry, jihadist terror, etc. Added to wars and climate change, these factors have all contributed to an explosion of the number of internally displaced people across Sub-Saharan Africa over the last years.
- In Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger (where there was also a failed coup last March), terrorist attacks have increased fivefold since 2016. This situation has also built up discontent within the rank-and-file of these countries’ armed forces, compelled to fight Islamist insurgents and other armed groups without proper military equipment nor decent pay. The coups are also an attempt to funnel this mood and pre-empt wider mutinies.
- French imperialism is facing a deep crisis of influence on the continent, most acutely in its ex-colonies. This crisis has been accelerated by the disastrous outcome of Operation Barkhane, which Macron was forced to wind down early last year. By sowing further violence, population displacements and misery, it has helped crystallize a mass anti-French imperialism sentiment all around that region. Local military officers have exploited that mood to grab power for themselves, using “patriotic” and “anti-imperialist” rhetoric to divert attention from the mounting social contradictions with which they were confronted.
- Unlike in Sudan and Chad, where the military takeovers were spearheaded by figures directly associated with the decrepit ruling elite, the army in Guinea, Mali and Burkina initially enjoyed a degree of support amongst the population, tired of the failure of the political elites, corruption, economic hardship and insecurity. However, in essence these coups were a reaction from the military brass aimed at cutting across a process of mass discontent building up in society, and at controlling and channelling it down a road that is not threatening to the system. In Mali and Burkina Faso, their incapacity to deliver on the promises that had helped them to power has already led to a “coup within the coup”. As the new military juntas have nothing fundamentally different to offer, a drawn-out process of political instability lies ahead.
New Cold War
- This instability is also both a by-product and an amplifier of the imperialist rivalries on the continent, which have intensified since the war in Ukraine. The new juntas have tried to balance their allegiances by playing off Russia against France, in a context whereby the former has seen an opening for itself with this destabilization of French imperialism in the latter’s ex-colonial backyard.
- The unusually large number of visits recently made to Africa by the likes of Macron, Blinken, Lavrov etc show that all major imperialist powers are trying to woo African governments at a time of mounting global tensions. The major inroads made by China across the continent over the last decades are another important and mounting source of concern for Western powers. The continent’s important gas, coal and oil reserves put it in the spotlight of European governments’ accelerated efforts to find new energy sources outside Russia, and is a key ingredient in this renewed inter-imperialist rivalry. Neocolonial states are also manoeuvring to balance the various imperialist blocs in order to gain as many concessions as possible, from both camps.
- For example, coal exports to Europe from South Africa increased by 720% in the first half of 2022 — from half a million tonnes in H1 2021 to 4.1 million tonnes in the first half of 2022. At the same time South Africa has increased its commitments to strengthening ties in the BRICS coalition, notably the announcement of planned naval exercises with Russian warships in South Africa to bolster “the already flourishing relations” among Russia, China and South Africa according to the South African defence force. Soon after, EU High Representative Josep Borrel visited South Africa and a massive greenwashing deal has been concluded which states that “EU member states will invest €280 million in grants in South Africa, including €87.75 million from the EU budget to support policy reforms on green recovery, unlock green investments and build a knowledge-based transition in the framework of the Just and Green Recovery Team Europe Initiative for South Africa”.
- The chances of various conflicts being rekindled and of new parts of the continent morphing into terrains of proxy competition between the main superpowers, as well as of increased infighting in each country between different wings of the ruling classes depending on their alignments with one bloc or the other, are rising in this context. This can take on a messy and volatile character, as shown in Kenya where William Ruto, the country’s new elected President, ran his campaign on an anti-China platform, yet did a complete about-face as soon as he got into office, arguing for an expansion of relations with China.
- From the ongoing revolutionary process in Sudan to the 2021 mass struggle against the monarchy in eSwatini, from the so-called “hunger revolution” in Kenya to the increasing conflict between public services workers and the ANC in South Africa, from the Nigerian university lecturers’ eight months-long strike to the many strikes by healthcare workers in Zimbabwe, the signs that rising waves of struggles will be flooding the Sub-Saharan region in the coming years, particularly from its extremely youthful population, are plenty. But in general there remains a very large political vacuum on the left side of politics, which all sorts of populist and reactionary forces can occupy.
- As these struggles are also taking place in a context whereby there exist, to varying degrees, significant popular illusions in the idea that Russia and China might represent some lesser evil or counterweight to the “traditional” neocolonial powers, building fighting parties of workers and youth, armed with a socialist program and completely independent not only from all pro-capitalist politicians but also from all imperialist blocs, takes renewed importance.