A starting point for socialists is to understand the psychology – the consciousness and
the mood – of the working class and to understand the forces at work that shape that psychology. How else can we help workers organize if we don’t understand this?
And the world situation can effect massive changes on the consciousness. For instance, the
fact of the Cold War formed the background for how almost all workers in the US saw things. Then Stalinism collapsed. The effect, combined with a series of defeats of the working class, created massive illusions in the “free” market and here in the US of this country being “Number One”, the unchallenged supreme force in the world. Millions of US workers actually took pride in this and that affected everything they were willing to do.
That’s why it’s fundamental to take stock of the changing world situation.
That’s what the capitalists do, such as in the US Army War College study called “At Our Own Peril” . In it, they wrote about: “…(A) volatile restructuring of international security affairs that appears increasingly inhospitable to unchallenged American leadership….. (We) should start from the jarring realization that “we can lose.” (See this article for further analysis of the study and column on right for further quotes.)
The study describes a world in which Russian and Chinese capitalism are rising to challenge US domination; a world in which other secondary powers such as Iran and North Korea are also seeking a radical “redistribution” of world power; and a world in which “non-state” actors are seeking to upset the entire apple cart. As for this last, they specify groups like the Islamic State and also movements like the Arab Spring (which they say will “mutate and metastasize and manifest differently over time.”)
How did we get to this situation and where is it heading?
Post War Period
After WW II, the world was basically defined through the conflict between capitalism and bureaucratic state planning, or in other words between the United States and the Soviet Union. The capitalist world more or less huddled together under the protective wing of US capitalism.
Collapse of Stalinism
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union (1989) US capitalism was left as the unchallenged world power. This was reflected in the rise of the neo-conservatives, who argued that the only thing that mattered was raw military power, and since no force could stand up to the US military, they were free to invade anywhere in the world. It also argued that they didn’t need allies and also that any tendency to look further into the future for underlying problems was simply a sign of weakness. This theory led to a disaster for US capitalism in Iraq, and its failure led to the installation of Barack Obama as the antidote.
End of US “Primacy”
The new direction of US capitalism was no more successful at stemming the tide. What the Wall St. Journal editors constantly attacked Obama for – “weakness” – was not weakness at all; it simply was an attempt to grapple with an irreversible current in world affairs: The irreversible decline of US “primacy” as the Army War College study calls it.
Economy: Tendency for Rate of Profit to Fall
Meanwhile, another tendency is maturing: The inevitable economic contradiction of
capitalism known as the tendency for the rate of profit to fall. That tendency deserves an entire article in and of itself to explain, but it explains that the percentage return on the dollar (or euro or yuen) invested will tend to decline over the long hall. (See graph.) That is because the capitalists make their profit from what Marx called the unpaid labor of the workers. However, over time the percentage the capitalist invests into machinery vs. into workers tends to increase. In other words, automation. This gives the capitalist a smaller proportion of her or his overall investment which can turn a profit.
The result is that they try to recoup their profits through cutting wages, among other things. This is a large part of what explains the unrelenting attack on workers’ wages and living conditions around the world in recent decades. There is a limit to how much they can cut the wages, though, and in any case it solves nothing since doing so cuts into their own market.
Economic Crisis Shakes Things Loose
One way to maintain the market and also to boost profits is through increasing credit (debt). This tendency found its limit in 2007-08. The economic crisis of those years seemed to have shaken something loose and a wave of struggle swept the world. This included:
- First and foremost the “Arab Spring”
- The Occupy movement in the United States
- An absolutely massive strike wave in China
- The strike wave in South Africa including the miners’ strike (leading to the Marikana massacre) and the agricultural workers’ struggles.
- The election of Syriza in Greece.
Workers Traditional Mass Organizations
An important and common thread that tied all these struggles together is that they were carried out outside of, and often in opposition to, the mass traditional organizations of the working class, or former mass workers’ parties. The Arab Spring in Egypt, for example, also involved the formation of new unions. The same was true in South Africa. The struggle in Greece was actually defined by the rejection of the former mass working class party, the Greek Socialist Party. And in the US, the Occupy movement was carried out almost entirely outside the unions (whose leadership at one point sent their emissaries in order to control it.)
However, lacking a clear program and strategy, these struggles were defeated, in the case of Syriza by the capitulation of its leadership – a leadership that had no strategy or program to mobilize the wider working class of the rest of the European Union.
Wave of Reaction
The Alliance of Middle East Socialists has made a valuable contribution by explaining the link between the defeat of the Arab Spring and the collapse of the Occupy movement and what followed: A wave of reaction.
In Syria, the torturer, mass murderer and war criminal Assad was propped up by the reactionary Putin and Rouhani regimes. A wave of sectarianism seems to be sweeping the country. This wave is mirrored around the world:
- In India, the Hindu nationalist BJP has been elected into office followed by a series of anti-Muslim riots.
- In Myanmar (Burma) the Buddhist clerical hierarchy has led mass riots against the Rohingya (Muslim) minority.
- Shia-sunni sectarianism has swept the Muslim world from one continent to another.
- Throughout Europe, chauvinist and racist groups are on the rise.
- Putin appeared to have solidified his rule based on Great Russian chauvinism and bigotry.
As made clear by the US Army War College study, this wave of reaction is in part a threat to the capitalists themselves. They point to one of the dangers as being “violent or disruptive dissolution of political cohesion and identity.” It makes it hard for them to make a secure profit, after all! This shows that not everything that is harmful to the capitalist system benefits the working class, which is being ripped apart by this sectarianism in some parts of the world.
Trump Election: Part of Global Process
The election of Donald Trump is part of this process. His slogan “Make America Great Again” calls for a return of both the “American (economic) Dream” and the days when US capitalism went unchallenged in the world. Neither will ever return.
The tops of the mainstream of the US capitalist class strongly opposed him. First they pinned their hopes on Jeb Bush, and when he crashed and burned they turned to Hillary Clinton. To no avail. This shows the weakening grip of the mainstream of the US capitalist class over the consciousness of millions of US workers. But what is replacing it is no more positive than is the rise of the chauvinist, racist populist parties of Europe or the BJP in India.
A major issue regarding Trump is his long time links to a rival capitalist class – the Russian capitalists. Rightly defined as the Russian mafia, Trump has long served as a money-launderer for them. This is the source of his campaign links to the Putin regime, and it means that Trump is willing to sacrifice the global interests of the mainstream of the US capitalist class for his own, personal financial interests. As the editors of the Wall St. Journal put it “The president’s Russia policies have more to do with his personal concerns than with the national interest.” These “Russia policies” have also meant Trump’s “dissing” traditional alliances of US capitalism, including NATO. This is a huge concern for the mainstream of the US capitalist class, and “At Our Own Peril” seems to take a swipe at that by emphasizing the importance of maintaining these alliances.
There has been an unrelenting attack against Trump in the mainstream media. Even the Wall St. Journal, which had started to warm to him after he first came into office and immediately moved to deregulate and privatize everything in sight, started to warm to him. Now, they are attacking him for his “chaos theory of government”.
They all, however, are very hesitant to attack the heart of the issue: His serving as a money
launderer for the Russian mafia. The reason for this hesitancy is that money laundering for drug cartels and the like is rampant in the US real estate industry. If they open that particular can of worms, who knows what might crawl out? The degeneration and criminality (by their own definition) of a major sector of the US capitalist class threatens to be revealed. At the municipal level, many local city officials are financed by this real estate industry, meaning that their ties to money launderers could cause a political crisis in city after city.
So far their attacks on Trump are only partly effective, with him retaining the support of his core base and retaining overall support of close to 40%.
Crisis in Working Class
Not only is there a crisis for the US capitalist class, though, there is also a crisis for the working class. An estimated 28% of UAW members voted for Trump, for example. (UAW president Dennis Williams responded by saying he wants to work with Trump.)
In other words, the ability of the capitalist class to directly influence society has weakened. This is matched by a weakening in the cohesion and the consciousness of the working class. There is a name for this sort of situation: Bonepartism. This is a form of indirect rule by the capitalist class. Classic Bonepartism often takes place through a military coup, like that of Pinochet in Chile in 1973. The tendency in that direction can be seen in Trump’s reliance on military figures for his administration, including National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, head of the National Security Council Lt. General Keith Kellogg, Defense Secretary Mattis. Trump’s head of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, is a West Point graduate. In foreign affairs, Trump has elevated the role of the military over that of the State Department. And now, most important of all is the appointment of his new chief of staff, retired general John Kelly.
We are not there yet and it would take a shock to get there, but who’s to say such a shock isn’t coming?
How Could It Have Been Different?
We should also take a closer look at the situation in Syria, which seems to be at the epicenter of the world capitalist crisis. As much as
anywhere else, there was a mass rebellion against authoritarianism and neoliberal economic policies there in the global rebellion of 2011. It seems that that rebellion went further than anywhere else, with the establishment of Local Coordinating Committees to coordinate the revolution throughout Syria. In at least some cases, these committees seem to have taken on the role of workers’ councils, actually rivaling the capitalist state for power. (See the section on Syria in this pamphlet.) As in other countries, however, the revolutionaries seem not to have seen the full potential for these LCC’s. How could it have been different, after all? The historic memory of the world working class has been thrown back. That’s what we’ve seen from the Arab Spring to Occupy to all points in between. Unfortunately, workers have to pay for this through increased attacks, sectarianism and division, environmental destruction… you name it.
Meanwhile, as “At Our Own Peril” explains, US capitalism/imperialism is no longer the sole such force in the world. New rivals – mainly Chinese and Russian capitalism/imperialism – are rising to challenge the US’s perch. Others such as Turkish and Iranian capitalism/imperialism are following in their wake. A new world order is inherent in this situation.
New World War?
Such was the case at the turn of the 19th century, with the decline of British imperialism, the Ottoman empire, etc. and the rise of US and German imperialism. The only way a new world order could be arrived at was through an all out test of strength, in other words war. That’s what WW I was all about, and that is inherent in the present situation. If that is not enough, the environmental crisis compounds that looming disaster. As far as the sectarian, racist, sexist and chauvinist attacks – what we are seeing now is just a warning of the future that capitalism has to offer.
The working class has not been decisively defeated, though. There will be many
opportunities. Who knows how a new working class movement will present itself? Who, for example, predicted the form of either the Arab Spring or the Occupy movement? The task of genuine socialists – revolutionary socialists – is to prepare for these new movements by linking up with those fighting forces of the working class and the youth, helping those forces develop, and in helping build an understanding of the present period and how – through what means – the working class can organize to be the independent force leading the fight against capitalism and all the attacks that capitalism generates. That would include both the general trajectory as well as the specific, concrete steps that can be taken right now.