Tag Archives: War

21st Century Socialism – by LOUIS PROYECT.

2 Feb

Fifty years ago, Peter Camejo ran for Senator from Massachusetts against Ted Kennedy. He didn’t win but did manage to recruit many young people to socialism through a stump speech filled with jokes. One of them had to do with life under socialism. There would be such an abundance of goods that money would no longer be necessary. He’d say something like this: “You go to a grocery store and there is filet mignon. Nothing would prevent you from sticking a dozen under your jacket and sneaking out. But instead of being arrested for shoplifting, you’d be referred to a psychotherapist for doing something so crazy. All you can eat is one, right?”

Today, it would be difficult to make such a speech since we are far too aware of the costs to the planet from cattle ranching. Most socialists are speaking about the need to prevent the Amazon rainforest from being leveled to the ground. Do we accelerate global warming to supply beef to fast-food restaurants? If Peter were alive today, he’d be among the loudest voices against Bolsonaro.

In his 1970 campaign, Peter was trying to popularize the ideas found in Leon Trotsky’s 1934 article “If American Goes Communist.”  Trotsky’s words sound somewhat crass as if he were making a sales pitch to men in the admittedly backward but wealthy country: “The average man doesn’t like systems or generalities either. It is the task of your communist statesmen to make the system deliver the concrete goods that the average man desires: his food, cigars, amusements, his freedom to choose his own neckties, his own house and his own automobile. It will be easy to give him these comforts in Soviet America.”

 

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Since Trotskyists were not in power anywhere, they were under no obligation to cope with the brutal realities of economic development like the Sandinistas put up during the 1980s. They were content to criticize them from afar, their stock in trade.

They explained the Soviet failure to match American productivity in the 1950s and 60s as a function of bureaucratic rule. If the USSR returned to its democratic roots, the workers would forge ahead and produce all the food, cigars and amusements that Stalinism could not. But history played a trick on the Trotskyists. Instead of a socialist utopia, the Russians ended up with a capitalist dystopia under Yeltsin. While Russia recovered from Jeffrey Sachs’s shock therapy, it still staggers along economically because of oil market vicissitudes and imperialist sanctions. Discontent, however, hardly produces anything resembling a Trotskyist new wave. Instead, opposition to Putin remains within time-dishonored liberal economic parameters.

In debates over whether socialism was feasible or not, Trotskyism had little to offer except formulaic assurances that workers democracy would set things right. The big debates happened elsewhere and were over whether a planned economy, democratic or undemocratic, could work as efficiently as the capitalist marketplace. Friedrich von Hayek and Ludwig von Mises wrote numerous books and articles arguing that planning in and of itself necessarily leads to an irrational and inefficient allocation of resources. Following in their path, Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan reinforced libertarian orthodoxy. It was only the 2008 financial crisis that shook the confidence of the Republican Party establishment with Greenspan confessing: “Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief.”

 

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Jeffrey Sachs had a similar epiphany after seeing how his version of market-driven economics failed to produce miracles in Bolivia, Poland or Russia. Now writing articles defending Bernie Sanders against charges that he is a “radical,” Sachs sounds like he has imbibed Trotskyist literature: “The ruling class—dominated by billionaires like Donald Trump and the vested interests that prop him up—have played the same name-calling game for decades.”

Despite the fiery rhetoric targeting billionaires, neither Sanders nor Sachs has given up on the capitalist system. Like Hayek, they regard markets as a sine qua non for rational economic behavior. When Elizabeth Warren described the difference between her and Sanders as “He’s a socialist, and I believe in markets,” she was inaccurate. They are both marketeers. You’ll never hear Sanders making a pitch for public ownership of the means of production and a planned economy. Briefly put, he is for Norway, not Cuba. He is too smart to sound like Peter Camejo’s 1970 stump speech since that will shut the doors to MSNBC and lucrative book contracts.

Almost everybody has a good word for markets today. NYU sociology professor Vivek Chibber, who Bhaskar Sunkara regards as a major influence, sounds positively Hayekian in an article he wrote for Jacobin’s special issue on the Russian Revolution.

“What is more challenging is the issue of economic planning. We have to start with the observation that the expectation of a centrally planned economy simply replacing the market has no empirical foundation. We can want planning to work, but we have no evidence that it can. Every attempt to put it in place for more than short duration’s has met with failure.”

 

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Sam Gindin, who is far more revolutionary-minded than Chibber, also conceded the need for markets to Jacobin readers:

The power of capitalism, Hayek claimed, is that it brings such otherwise internalized, hidden knowledge to the surface while socialism, no matter how much it hopes to plan, cannot effectively access or develop the knowledge on which successful planning would rest.

For all its inherent ideological and class biases, this critique can’t be ignored. Hayek cannot be countered by arguing that capitalists themselves plan. Aside from the fact that the scale of organizing a total society in a nonmarket way is of a different order of magnitude than addressing a single, even vast, corporation, internal corporate calculations under capitalism have an advantage that centralized socialist planning would not have: they have external market prices and market-driven standards by which to measure themselves.

Much of this is reminiscent of the arguments I heard for Market Socialism 30 years ago when I discovered Internet mailing lists (this was prior to the Web, blogs and social media.) Throughout the 1980s, economists in the Soviet bloc blamed the lack of market mechanisms for all their problems. Alec Nove, a Scottish economist, identified with their grievances and called for a mixture of planning and markets. In his 1983 “The Economics of Feasible Socialism Revisited,” Nove hoped to debunk Lenin’s claim in “Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?” that “Capitalism has simplified the work of accounting and control, has reduced it to a comparatively simple system of bookkeeping, that any literate person can do.”

 

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Striking the same note as Sam Gindin, Nove maintains that Lenin was naïve:

A large factory, for instance, making cars or chemical machinery, is an assembly plant of parts and components which can be made in literally thousands of different factories, each of which, in turn, may depend on supplies of materials, fuel and machines, made by hundreds or more other production units. Introduce the further dimension of time (things need to be provided punctually and in sequence), add the importance of provision for repair, maintenance, replacement, investment in future productive capacity, the training and deployment of the labor force, its needs for housing, amenities, hairdressers, dry-cleaners, fuel, furniture…’Simple’, indeed!

Markets, however, are not just about figuring out which drill-press to buy when you are investing a new factory that makes furniture. Nor, it is about figuring out how much to charge for a rocking chair that comes off the assembly line. It is about the price of labor. When a market can’t bear the price of a unionized worker in an American plant, capital will take wings and fly to places where labor is more affordable.

We are now well into the 21st century. Should we continue to see economic efficiency as a litmus test for a healthy socialist system? Why should we see like a state, as anarchist scholar James C. Scott put it? For Scott, men with few apparent similarities all adhered to a “high modernist” vision. High modernism’s goal was to expand production in agriculture and industry as the best way to meet human needs. For him, this included both Robert McNamara and Leon Trotsky. Such men believed that scientific knowledge was key to governing and producing according to a plan. That, at least, was Scott’s conclusion even though it is hard to see any kind of science or planning at work when McNamara was Secretary of Defense and bombing the hell out of Vietnam. A Hells Angel on methamphetamine would have likely made the same decisions based on the Cold War psychoses that made such a war possible.

 

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The underlying but unstated assumption for the “high modernists” is that the nation-state must achieve economic growth on its own, like pulling itself up by its bootstraps. As long as capitalism has existed, politicians and political theorists shared this understanding. The 17th-century treaties of Westphalia established the bootstrap basis for nation-state economic development in Europe. Afterward, gunboats went forth and imposed this model on the rest of the world at the point of a bayonet. The model was well-suited to dividing and conquering Africa and the Middle East.

In the pre-modern world made up primarily of city-states funded by tributes extracted from peasants, there was little market-driven competition as we know it today. The Ottoman Empire was typical. It became “the sick man of Europe” because it failed to adopt the labor-saving machinery that capitalism was producing in the West. Like the USSR in the 20th century, it collapsed because it failed to compete in global markets. As long as the nation-state exists and as long as money is the basis for commodity exchange, a country like Cuba or the former Soviet Union has to play by the rules of global capitalism. Unless you can export commodities at a cheaper price than a competing nation-state, your economy will suffer, and the citizenry will grow restive.

A recent N.Y. Times article reminded me how restive Americans can become when the economy loses its competitive edge in the global marketplace. Titled “In Crucial Pennsylvania, Democrats Worry a Fracking Ban Could Sink Them,” it cited the state’s lieutenant-general John Fetterman, who proudly called his state “the Saudi Arabia of natural gas.” Fracking was not only critical to the state’s economy, but to the “union way of life.” He worried that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren’s call for an immediate end to fracking would destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs. If given a choice between Donald Trump and environmental health, Pennsylvania’s workers would choose Trump even if it meant a higher cancer rate. The article quotes Jeff Nobers, executive director of the Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania: “At the end of the day, if I don’t have a job, if I don’t have health care, if I can’t take care of my family, it doesn’t matter if we have global peace and gun control and everything else.”

In Australia, climate change has already led to disastrous consequences. Will the death of billions of animals convince voters to follow a different path than Pennsylvanians? Perhaps not. Keep in mind that coal is Australia’s second-largest export behind iron ore. In 2016-17, it exported 202 million tons of thermal coal and 177 million tons of metallurgical coal with a combined value of $54 billion. The coal industry provided around 47,000 direct jobs and a further 120,000 indirect jobs across Australia.

In countries not endowed by plentiful reserves of oil, gas and coal, manufacturing provides the most reliable path to economic progress. Indeed, fossil fuels are subject to the chaotic speculation of global markets and that economists identify as the “resource curse” that keeps Venezuela dependent. (Of course, imperialist sanctions on both Venezuela and Iran are just as much to blame.) With China looming as a major competitor to the USA as the 21st century lurches forward, competitive pressures will likely force both countries to forsake environmental regulations and impose labor discipline to compete on the world market. Other nations will follow suit, as long as the profit motive remains sacrosanct.

 

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In 1961, a musical titled “Stop the World—I Want to Get Off” opened first in England and then on Broadway. There are few revivals nowadays, but the title lives on as an apt description of how some people feel about late capitalism, especially when I read through the N.Y. Times in the morning. Unlike Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk, I have neither the means nor the motivation to go live on Mars.

The 20th century was all about the competition between capitalism and socialism. Which system could best help prepare a nation-state for success in the next century? It was like trying to figure out whether a Harvard or a Yale degree would land you a better job. It turns out that both systems appear to be incapable of resolving the global contradictions that neither Hayek nor Trotsky anticipated. We know that capitalism doesn’t work except for the capitalist class. Why would I say the same thing about socialism? The answer: as long as we understand socialism to be co-equal with the nation-state, it will never succeed.

The Bolivarian revolution in Latin America faced insurmountable odds. While some on the left find it easy to fault Hugo Chavez or Evo Morales for not carrying out a genuine socialist revolution, they forget that classical Marxism ruled out building socialism in a single country. In 1847, Frederick Engels wrote a short work titled “The Principles of Communism” that took the form of a catechism. He posed questions that would be of interest to socialist-minded workers and then provided the answers. One of them was, “Will it be possible for this revolution to take place in one country alone?” He replied:

No. By creating the world market, big industry has already brought all the peoples of the Earth, and especially the civilized peoples, into such close relation with one another that none is independent of what happens to the others.

Further, it has co-ordinated the social development of the civilized countries to such an extent that, in all of them, bourgeoisie and proletariat have become the decisive classes, and the struggle between them the great struggle of the day. It follows that the communist revolution will not merely be a national phenomenon but must take place simultaneously in all civilized countries – that is to say, at least in England, America, France, and Germany.

 

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If that was true in 1847, it is a hundred times truer today. Electronic communications, the spread of capitalist property relations to every corner of the world, jet travel, multinational corporations, interlocking financial institutions, television and radio, and global trade agreements such as the WTO compel the socialist movement to adjust to new realities. The ruling classes have dozens of institutions that help sharpen their struggles against the working class. The World Economic Forum is just one of them. Meanwhile, workers try to solve their most pressing problems within national borders. We are not even where we were in the early 2000s when the World Social Forum met regularly in places like Porto Alegre in Brazil.

Engels counted on England, America, France, and Germany as the liberated territory that could help transform the rest of the world. The 20th century left pinned its hopes on Russia for most of the 20th century. More recently, clusters of nations in the global south have stepped into the breach. In my over half-century of Marxist advocacy and activism, I have seen the terrain shift. First, it was in Indochina, where Eisenhower warned about a “domino effect.” It turned out that he had little to worry about since the surrounding nations had little support from China, despite Mao’s phony revolutionism. Next, it shifted to Central America, where this time Soviet Russia pulled the plug. Nicaragua might have been the shining example that would have inspired other revolutions, but perestroika meant that it became a pawn the Kremlin was ready to sacrifice. The last and most promising development was the Bolivarian revolution that had the potential of transforming Latin America from top to bottom. Once again, this regional bloc of radical governments failed to meet expectations. Perhaps, the best explanation for their failure was to remain within the nation-state context. They might have taken their namesake Simon Bolivar’s advice to heart: “In the unity of our nations rests the glorious future of our peoples.”

If and when a new revolutionary bloc of nations emerges, its most urgent task will be to begin implementing a planned economy across borderlines. Whether planning is second-best to Hayekian markets is immaterial. The most pressing need is to share resources, technical expertise, and environmental preservation within the liberated territory as a demonstration that socialism can work. In a small way, Cuba’s ability to withstand the human costs of hurricanes, to feed and educate its people, and provide medical care on the island as well as around the world is more important than its ability to compete with other sugar-producing nations.

 

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NO WAR BUT CLASS WAR!

 

One understands why there is so little interest in thinking globally or regionally in advanced capitalist countries. In the USA, you get the most virulent form of nationalism because it is an empire. Does this have a disorienting effect on the left? While the Green New Deal contains many positive features, it is a program for the USA and not the planet.

Even if Bernie Sanders was elected President and joined by a majority of “democratic socialists” in Congress, the Green New Deal remains woefully national in scope. Poorer countries are now supplying fossil fuels that provide energy to wealthier ones. They will also be the source of the minerals that batteries require to store the energy windmills, solar panels, etc., generate. Lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles will require up to 43% of the cobalt and 50% of the lithium produced globally. Those minerals are plentiful in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, where militias fight over mines as spoils of a brutal civil war. The Africans endure child labor, human rights violations, land grabs, and environmental pollution while Western corporations are busy making profits off of “Green” technology. If the marketplace governs the relations between nations rather than an overarching planned economy, can we expect the people living in the Congo to ever enjoy the living standards of Americans or even the right to live in peace?

In 1965, Che Guevara went to the Congo to fight for its liberation. He went where a fighter/doctor was needed. He joined Fidel Castro on the Granma in 1958 and then went to Bolivia in 1967. Argentine by nationality, he always saw himself as an internationalist. In a 1964 speech to the UN, Che denounced the imperialist exploitation of the Congo:

I would like to refer specifically to the painful case of the Congo, unique in the history of the modern world, which shows how, with absolute impunity, with the most insolent cynicism, the rights of peoples can be flouted. The direct reason for all this is the enormous wealth of the Congo, which the imperialist countries want to keep under their control. In the speech he made during his first visit to the United Nations, compañero Fidel Castro observed that the whole problem of coexistence among peoples boils down to the wrongful appropriation of other peoples’ wealth. He made the following statement: “End the philosophy of plunder and the philosophy of war will be ended as well.”

Not content with words, he took action a year later to confront the imperialists on the battlefield. As we understand today, Che’s guerrilla warfare in both the Congo and Bolivia lacked the preparation carried out by the July 26th Movement in Cuba. His motivations were exemplary even if he failed to understand the importance of a mass movement to back up the armed struggle. With millions of people waking up to the dead-end of capitalism across the planet, we need to begin building a worldwide movement that can finally fulfill Che Guevara’s dream.

 

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One understands why there is so little interest in thinking globally or regionally in advanced capitalist countries. In the USA, you get the most virulent form of nationalism because it is an empire. Does this have a disorienting effect on the left? While the Green New Deal contains many positive features, it is a program for the USA and not the planet.

Even if Bernie Sanders was elected President and joined by a majority of “democratic socialists” in Congress, the Green New Deal remains woefully national in scope. Poorer countries are now supplying fossil fuels that provide energy to wealthier ones. They will also be the source of the minerals that batteries require to store the energy windmills, solar panels, etc., generate. Lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles will require up to 43% of the cobalt and 50% of the lithium produced globally. Those minerals are plentiful in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, where militias fight over mines as spoils of a brutal civil war. The Africans endure child labor, human rights violations, land grabs, and environmental pollution while Western corporations are busy making profits off of “Green” technology. If the marketplace governs the relations between nations rather than an overarching planned economy, can we expect the people living in the Congo to ever enjoy the living standards of Americans or even the right to live in peace?

In 1965, Che Guevara went to the Congo to fight for its liberation. He went where a fighter/doctor was needed. He joined Fidel Castro on the Granma in 1958 and then went to Bolivia in 1967. Argentine by nationality, he always saw himself as an internationalist. In a 1964 speech to the UN, Che denounced the imperialist exploitation of the Congo:

I would like to refer specifically to the painful case of the Congo, unique in the history of the modern world, which shows how, with absolute impunity, with the most insolent cynicism, the rights of peoples can be flouted. The direct reason for all this is the enormous wealth of the Congo, which the imperialist countries want to keep under their control. In the speech he made during his first visit to the United Nations, compañero Fidel Castro observed that the whole problem of coexistence among peoples boils down to the wrongful appropriation of other peoples’ wealth. He made the following statement: “End the philosophy of plunder and the philosophy of war will be ended as well.”

Not content with words, he took action a year later to confront the imperialists on the battlefield. As we understand today, Che’s guerrilla warfare in both the Congo and Bolivia lacked the preparation carried out by the July 26th Movement in Cuba. His motivations were exemplary even if he failed to understand the importance of a mass movement to back up the armed struggle. With millions of people waking up to the dead-end of capitalism across the planet, we need to begin building a worldwide movement that can finally fulfill Che Guevara’s dream.

Louis Proyect blogs at http://louisproyect.org and is the moderator of the Marxism mailing list. In his spare time, he reviews films for CounterPunch.

 

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No War but Class War! None are more helplessly enslaved than those that believe they are free. New – Used Left Wing & Progressive Books & Memorabilia https://www.facebook.com/Fahrenheit451bookstore/

 

 

 

NO NUKES – US deploys “usable” nuclear weapon amid continuing war threats against Iran.

1 Feb

The Pentagon deployed a new, smaller nuclear warhead aboard the ballistic missile submarine USS Tennessee as it sailed into the Atlantic last month in the midst of the spiraling crisis with Iran. The weapon, known as the W76-2 warhead, has an explosive yield of roughly five kilotons, a third of the destructive power of the “Little Boy” bomb that claimed the lives of some 140,000 people in Hiroshima in 1945.

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) revealed the deployment this week, citing unnamed civilian and military figures. It stated that two of the 20 Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles onboard the USS Tennessee and other subs will be armed with the W76-2 warheads. Each missile can be loaded with as many as eight such warheads, capable of striking multiple targets.

 

First launch of a Trident missile on January 18, 1977 at Cape Canaveral, Florida

 

The new weapon has been rolled out with remarkable speed. The Trump administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review called for the development of “a low-yield SLBM [submarine-launched ballistic missile] warhead to ensure a prompt response option that is able to penetrate adversary defenses” and close “an exploitable ‘gap’ in US regional deterrence capabilities.”

The pretext for the warhead’s deployment was the unsubstantiated claim that Russia is developing similar weapons and has adopted a doctrine of “escalate to de-escalate” or “escalate to win” by utilizing low-yield nuclear weapons, with the expectation that Washington would not retaliate with strategic warheads for fear of initiating an all out thermonuclear war. The Pentagon’s argument has been that a low-yield and rapid reaction ballistic missile is needed to “restore deterrence.”

The report by the FAS strongly suggests, however, that this alleged Russian doctrine is a pretext and that “it is much more likely that the new low-yield weapon is intended to facilitate first-use of nuclear weapons against North Korea or Iran.”

It points out that both the US National Security Strategy and the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) envision the use of nuclear weapons in response to “non-nuclear attacks, and large-scale conventional aggression,” and that the NPR explicitly stated that the W76-2 warhead was designed to “expand the range of credible US options for responding to nuclear or non-nuclear strategic attack.” Washington does not rule out a nuclear strike, including against non-nuclear armed countries like Iran.

 

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The deployment of the USS Tennessee with its new “usable” nuclear warheads came at roughly the same time as President Donald Trump huddled with his top aides on December 29 at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, ordering the criminal drone missile assassination of Gen. Qassem Suleimani, one of Iran’s top officials. The drone killing was carried out at Baghdad’s international airport five days later.

In a report Thursday, NBC News, citing unnamed senior US officials, established that at the same meeting in Florida, “Trump also authorized the bombing of Iranian ships, missile launchers and air defense systems… Technically, the military can now hit those targets without further presidential authorization, though in practice, it would consult with the White House before any such action.”

The report warned that “the two sides remain in a dangerous boxer’s clench, in which the smallest miscalculation, some officials believe, could lead to disaster.”

In other words, for all the talk of war having been averted following the act of war and war crime carried out by Washington in the murder of Suleimani, the reality is that the world remains on the knife’s edge of a catastrophic military confrontation, which could rapidly escalate into the first use of nuclear weapons in three-quarters of a century.

The threat against Iran is part of far broader buildup to global war through which US imperialism is seeking to offset the erosion of its previously hegemonic domination of the global economy by resorting to the criminal use of overwhelming military force.

 

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After securing a $738 billion military budget for 2020 with the support of an overwhelming majority—Democratic and Republican alike—in the US Congress, the Trump administration is now preparing to push through a 20 percent increase in the budget for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the agency overseeing the buildup of the US nuclear arsenal. This $20 billion budget proposal, made public this week, represents only a fraction of the more than $1 trillion the US is projected to spend on “modernizing” the arsenal over the next three decades—plans that were set into motion under the Democratic administration of Barack Obama, before Trump took office.

Trump is a war criminal. His threats to carry out the “obliteration” of Iran and to rain “fire and fury” upon North Korea are not merely hyperbole. The “usable” nuclear weapons to commit such atrocities have already been placed in his hands.

As the Senate impeachment trial of the US president limps to an ignominious close, it is striking that Trump’s greatest crimes, including acts of war and his threat to drag the world into a nuclear war, feature in no way in the charges against him. On the contrary, the articles of impeachment center on allegations that he withheld lethal military aid to Ukraine and has been insufficiently aggressive in confronting Russia.

This charge is made, as Newsweek pointed out this week, after the Pentagon staged an unprecedented 93 separate military exercises between May and the end of September of last year, all of them simulating or preparing for war against Russia. This includes practice bombing runs less than 500 miles from the Russian border and the steady build-up of ground forces in the three Baltic states and Poland, together with escalating US air deployments described as “bomber assurance” and “theater security” programs.

The drive to war has its source not in the diseased mind of Donald Trump, but rather in the insoluble crisis of global capitalism. There exists no antiwar faction within the US ruling class, including its Democratic representatives, only tactical differences over how US imperialist interests should best be pursued on the global arena.

The struggle against a new imperialist world war and the threat it poses to the survival of humanity can be based only upon the struggles of the working class, which is engaged in a wave of strikes and social upheavals across the planet. These emerging mass struggles must be armed with a socialist and internationalist program to unify workers in the common fight to put an end to the source of war and social inequality, the capitalist system. BY Bill Van Auken

 

Published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI)

 

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No War but Class War! None are more helplessly enslaved than those that believe they are free. New – Used Left Wing & Progressive Books & Memorabilia https://www.facebook.com/Fahrenheit451bookstore/

 

THE DECADE OF SOCIALIST REVOLUTION BEGINS – Published by the International Committee of the Fourth International

3 Jan

The arrival of the New Year marks the beginning of a decade of intensifying class struggle and world socialist revolution. Be…..

 

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In the future, when learned historians write about the upheavals of the Twenty-First Century, they will enumerate all the “obvious” signs that existed, as the 2020s began, of the revolutionary storm that was soon to sweep across the globe. The scholars—with a vast array of facts, documents, charts, web site and social media postings, and other forms of valuable digitalized information at their disposal—will describe the 2010s as a period characterized by an intractable economic, social, and political crisis of the world capitalist system.

They will note that by the beginning of the third decade of the century, history had arrived at precisely the situation foreseen theoretically by Karl Marx: “At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or—what is but a legal expression for the same thing—with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundation the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed.”

What, in fact, were the principal characteristics of the last ten years?

 

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The institutionalization of unending military conflict and the growing threat of nuclear world war

There was not a single day during the last decade when the United States was not at war. Military operations not only continued in Iraq and Afghanistan. New interventions were undertaken in Syria, Libya, Yemen and the Ukraine. Even as 2020 is just getting under way, the murder of Iranian Major General Qassim Suleimani, ordered by President Donald Trump, threatens all-out war between the United States and Iran, with incalculable consequences. The involvement of an American president in yet another targeted killing, followed by bloodthirsty boasting, testifies to the far-advanced derangement of the entire ruling elite.

Moreover, the adoption of a new strategic doctrine in 2018 signaled a vast escalation in the military operations of the United States. In his announcement of the new strategy, then defense secretary James Mattis declared: “We will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists that we are engaged in today, but great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.” The new doctrine revealed the essential purpose of what had previously been called the “War on Terror:” the attempt to maintain the hegemonic position of American imperialism.

The United States is determined to maintain this position, whatever the financial costs and the consequences in terms of human life. As the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) states in its recently released Strategic Survey: “For its part, the US is not likely voluntarily, reluctantly or after some sort of battle, to pass any strategic baton to China.”

All the major imperialist powers escalated, during the past decade, their preparations for world war and nuclear conflict. The trillion-dollar military budget adopted in 2019 by the Trump administration, with the support of the Democratic Party, is a war budget. Germany, France, the UK, and all the imperialist countries are building up their armed forces. The targets of imperialism, including the ruling elites in Russia and China, alternate between threats of war and desperate efforts to forge some sort of agreement.

The institutions developed in the aftermath of World War II to prevent another global conflict are dysfunctional. The Strategic Survey writes:

The trends of 2018–19 have all confirmed the atomisation of international society. Neither ‘balance of power’ nor ‘international rules-based governance’ serve as ordering principles. International institutions have been marginalised. The diplomatic routine of meetings continues, yet the competing exertions of national efforts, too rarely coordinated with others, matter more—and most often they are erratic in both execution and consequence.

The end of a “global rules-based order”—i.e., one dependent on the unchallengeable dominance of US imperialism—sets into motion a political logic that leads to war. As the Strategic Survey warns: “Law is made and sustained by politics. When law cannot settle disputes, they are shunted back to the political realm for resolution.” To understand what the “realm” to which the IISS is referring, one must recall Clausewitz’ famous definition of war as politics by other means.

And what would a modern world war entail? The IISS calls attention to new plans for the use of nuclear weapons. “Meanwhile, the US and Russia are modernizing their arsenals and changing their doctrines in ways that facilitate their use, while the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir remains a potential flashpoint for the use of nuclear weapons.” The recklessness, bordering on insanity, that prevails among policy makers is indicated in the growing conviction that the use of tactical nuclear weapons is a feasible option. The IISS writes:

All that can be said with reasonable certainty is that a limited, regional nuclear exchange, under some circumstances, has severe global environmental effects. But under other circumstances, the effects could be minimal. [emphasis added]

The movement toward a Third World War, which would threaten mankind with extinction, cannot be halted by humanitarian appeals. War arises out of the anarchy of capitalism and the obsolescence of the nation-state system. Therefore, it can be stopped only through the global struggle of the working class for socialism.

 

NO ware

 

The breakdown of democracy

The extreme aggravation of class tensions and the dynamic of imperialism are the real sources of the universal breakdown of democratic forms of rule. As Lenin wrote in the midst of World War I: “Imperialism is the epoch of finance capital and monopolies, which introduce everywhere the striving for domination, not for freedom. Whatever the political system the result of these tendencies is everywhere reaction and intensification of antagonisms in this field.”

Lenin’s analysis is being substantiated in the turn of the ruling elites, during the past decade, toward authoritarian and fascistic methods of rule. The rise to power of such criminal and even psychopathic personalities as Narendra Modi in India, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Donald Trump in the United States, and Boris Johnson in the UK is symptomatic of a systemic crisis of the entire capitalist system.

Seventy-five years after the collapse of the Third Reich, fascism is making a comeback in Germany. The Alternative für Deutschland, which is a haven for neo-Nazis, emerged during the past decade as the main opposition party. Its rise was facilitated by the Grand Coalition government, a corrupt media, and reactionary academics, who whitewash with impunity the crimes of Hitler’s regime. Similar processes are at work throughout Europe, where the fascist leaders of the 1930s and 1940s—Petain in France, Mussolini in Italy, Horthy in Hungary and Franco in Spain—are being remembered with nostalgia.

The decade saw the resurgence of anti-Semitic violence and the cultivation of Islamophobia and other forms of national chauvinism and racism. Concentration camps were constructed on the US border with Mexico to imprison refugees fleeing from Central and South America, and in Europe and North Africa as the frontline of the anti-immigrant policy of the EU.

There is no progressive tendency to be found within the capitalist parties. Even when confronted with a fascistic president, the Democratic Party refrains from opposition based on the defense of democratic rights. Employing the methods of a palace coup, the Democrats seek Trump’s impeachment only because he, in their view, has undermined the US campaign against Russia and the proxy war in Ukraine.

The attitude of the entire bourgeois political establishment to democratic rights is summed up in the horrific treatment of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and whistleblower Chelsea Manning. With the support of both the Democrats and Republicans, Assange remains confined in Belmarsh prison in London, awaiting extradition to the US. Manning has been imprisoned for nearly a year for refusing to testify before a grand jury called to indict Assange on further charges.

The persecution of Assange and Manning is aimed at criminalizing the conduct of constitutionally-protected journalistic activity. It is part of a broader suppression of dissent that includes the campaign of internet censorship and the jailing of the Maruti-Suzuki workers in India and other class-war prisoners.

The preparations for war, involving massive expenditures and requiring the accumulation of unprecedented levels of debt, snuffs the air out of democracy. In the final analysis, the costs of war must be imposed upon the working people of the world. The burdens will encounter resistance by a population already incensed by decades of sacrifice. The response of the ruling elites will be the intensification of their efforts to suppress every form of popular dissent.

 

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The degradation of the environment

The last decade was marked by the continued and increasingly rapid destruction of the environment. Scientists have issued ever more dire warnings that without urgent and far-reaching action on a global scale, the effects of global warming will be devastating and irreversible. The deadly inferno engulfing Australia, as the year ended, is only the latest horrific consequence of climate change.

In November, 11,000 scientists signed a statement published in the journal BioScience warning that “planet Earth is facing a climate emergency.” It noted that over the course of four decades of global climate negotiations, “with few exceptions, we have generally conducted business as usual and have largely failed to address this predicament…

The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected. It is more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity…. Especially worrisome, are potential irreversible climate tipping points and nature’s reinforcing feedbacks that could lead to a catastrophic ‘hothouse Earth,’ well beyond the control of humans. These climate chain reactions could cause significant disruptions to ecosystems, society, and economies, potentially making large areas of Earth uninhabitable.

Earlier in the year, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that 821 million people, who were already suffering from hunger, face starvation as agricultural regions are impacted by global warming. Hundreds of millions could lose access to fresh water, while many more will be affected by increasingly severe weather patterns: flooding, drought and hurricanes.

Climate change, and other manifestations of environmental degradation, are the product of a social and economic system that is incapable of organizing global production in a rational and scientific manner, on the basis of social need—including the need for a healthy environment—rather than the endless accumulation of personal wealth.

 

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The aftermath of the 2008 crash and the crisis of capitalism

Underlying all other aspects of the social and political situation is the malignant growth of extreme social inequality—the inevitable and intended consequence of all the measures adopted by the ruling class following the economic and financial crisis of 2008.

Following the financial crash, which occurred on the eve of the 2010s, world governments and central banks opened the spigots. In the United States, the Bush and particularly the Obama administrations engineered the $700 billion bailout of the banks, followed by trillions of dollars in “quantitative easing” measures—that is, the purchase by the Federal Reserve of the worthless assets and securities held by financial institutions.

Overnight, the federal deficit of the American government was doubled. The assets of the Federal Reserve rose from under $2 trillion in November 2008 to $4.5 trillion in October 2014, and the figure remains at more than $4 trillion today. With a new $60 billion a month asset purchase program, initiated in late 2019, the balance sheet is expected to surpass post-crash highs by the middle of this year.

This policy has continued under Trump, with his massive corporate tax cuts and demands for further reductions in interest rates. The New York Times noted, in a January 1 article (“A Simple Investment Strategy That Worked in 2019: Buy Almost Anything”) that the value of almost all investment assets jumped sharply over the past year. The Nasdaq rose by 35 percent, the S&P 500 by 29 percent, commodities by 16 percent, US corporate bonds by 15 percent, and US Treasuries by 7 percent. “It was a remarkable across-the-board rally of a scale not seen in nearly a decade. The cause? Mostly a head-spinning reversal by the Federal Reserve, which went from planning to raise interest rates to cutting them and pumping fresh money into the financial markets.”

All the major capitalist powers have pursued similar measures. The allocation of unlimited credit and money printing—and this, in the final analysis, is what quantitative easing is—intensified the underlying crisis. In trying to rescue themselves, the ruling elites enshrined parasitism and raised social inequality to a level unknown in modern history.

Benefiting from the limitless infusion of money into the market, the fortunes of the financial elite rose during the past decade to astronomical heights. The 500 richest individuals in the world (0.000006 percent of the global population) now have a collective net worth of $5.9 trillion, up $1.2 trillion over the past year alone. This increase is more than the GDP (that is, the total value of all goods and services produced) of all but 15 countries in the world. In the US, the 400 richest individuals have more wealth than the bottom 64 percent, and the top 0.1 percent of the population have a larger share than at any time since 1929, immediately preceding the Great Depression.

The social catastrophe confronting masses of workers and youth throughout the world is the direct product of the policies employed to guarantee the accumulation of wealth by the corporate and financial elite.

The decline in life expectancy among workers in the US, the mass unemployment of workers and particularly young people throughout the world, the devastating austerity measures imposed on Greece and other countries, the intensification of exploitation to boost the profits of corporations—all this is the consequence of the policy pursued by the ruling elites.

 

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The growth of the international working class and the global class struggle

The objective conditions for socialist revolution emerge out of the global crisis. The approach of social revolution has already been foreshadowed in the mass demonstrations and strikes that swept across the globe in 2019: in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile, France, Spain, Algeria, Britain, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Kenya, South Africa, India and Hong Kong. The United States, where the entire political structure is directed toward the suppression of class struggle, witnessed the first national strike by auto workers in more than forty years.

But the dominant and most revolutionary feature of the class struggle is its international character, rooted in the global character of modern-day capitalism. Moreover, the movement of the working class is a movement of the younger generation and, therefore, a movement that will shape the future.

Those under 30 now comprise over half the world’s population and over 65 percent of the population in the world’s fastest growing regions—Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia. Each month in India, one million people turn 18. In the Middle East and North Africa, an estimated 27 million young people will enter the workforce in the next five years.

From 1980 to 2010, global industrial development added 1.2 billion people to the ranks of the working class, with hundreds of millions more in the decade since. Of this 1.2 billion, 900 million entered the working class in the developing world. Internationally, the percentage of the global labor force that can be classified as peasant declined from 44 percent in 1991 to 28 percent in 2018. Nearly one billion people in Sub-Saharan Africa are expected to join the working class in the coming decades. In China alone, 121 million people moved from “farm to factory” between 2000 and 2010, with millions more in the decade since.

It is not only Asia and Africa that have seen a growth in the working population. In the advanced capitalist countries, large sections of those who would have previously considered themselves middle class have been proletarianized, while the wave of immigrants from Latin America to the United States and from North Africa and the Middle East to Europe has added millions to a highly diverse workforce.

From 2010 to 2019, the world’s urban population grew by one billion, creating a network of interconnected “megacities” that are both hives of economic productivity and social powder kegs, where inequality is a visible fact of daily life.

And these workers are connected with each other in a manner that is unprecedented in world history. The colossal advances in science, technology and communications, above all the rise of the internet and the proliferation of mobile devices, have allowed masses of people to bypass the fake news of the bourgeois media, which function as little more than mouthpieces for the state and intelligence agencies. More than half of the world’s population, 4.4 billion people, now have access to the internet. The average individual spends over two hours on social media each day, largely on handheld devices.

Workers and youth can now coordinate their protests and actions on a global scale, expressed in the international movement against climate change, the emergence of the “yellow vests” as a worldwide symbol of protest against inequality, and the solidarity of auto workers in the United States and Mexico.

These objective changes are producing major shifts in social consciousness on the central question of social inequality. The 2019 United Nations Human Development Report explains that in almost all countries, the percentage of people demanding greater equality increased from the 2000s to the 2010s by up to 50 percent. The report warned: “Surveys have revealed rising perceptions of inequality, rising preferences for greater equality and rising global inequality in subjective perceptions of well-being. All these trends should be bright red-flags.”

 

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The role of revolutionary leadership

The growth of the working class and the emergence of class struggle on an international scale are the objective basis for revolution. However, the spontaneous struggles of workers and their instinctive striving for socialism is, by itself, inadequate. The transformation of the class struggle into a conscious movement for socialism is a question of political leadership.

The past decade has provided a wealth of political experiences demonstrating, in the negative, the critical role of revolutionary leadership. The decade began with revolution, in the form of the monumental struggles of Egyptian workers and youth against the US-backed dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. In the absence of a revolutionary leadership, and with the assistance of disorientation introduced by the petty-bourgeois organizations, the masses were channeled behind different factions of the ruling class, culminating in the reestablishment of direct military dictatorship under the butcher of Cairo, al-Sisi.

All the alternatives to Marxism, concocted by the representatives of the affluent middle class, have been discredited: The “apolitical” and neo-anarchist Occupy Wall Street movement in the US in 2011 was revealed to be a middle-class movement whose call for a “party of the 99 percent” sought to subordinate the interests of the working class to those of the top 10 percent.

New forms of “left populism” were promoted in Europe, including Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain. Syriza came to power in 2015 and for four years implemented the dictates of the banks. Podemos is now a governing party, in coalition with the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), which is committed to a right-wing, pro-austerity program. The “Five-Star Movement,” presented as an anti-establishment insurgency, ended up in political alliance with the Italian neo-fascists. Corbynism, which peddled the illusion of a revival of the Labour Party as an instrument of anti-capitalist struggle, proved in the end to be synonymous with political cowardice and prostration before the ruling class. Were Sanders to make his way to the White House, his administration would prove no less impotent.

In Latin America, the “left” bourgeois nationalism that was part of the “Pink Tide”—Lulaism in Brazil, the “Bolivarian Revolution” of Chavez in Venezuela, and Evo Morales in Bolivia—has been shipwrecked by the crisis of world capitalism. Their own austerity and pro-corporate policies prepared the way for a sharp shift to the right, including the rise to power of Bolsonaro in Brazil and the US-backed military coup against Morales in 2019.

The trade unions, which have long served as mechanisms for the suppression of the class struggle, have been exposed as agents of the corporations and the state. In the United States, the struggles of auto workers have been waged in conflict with the corrupt executives of the UAW, under indictment or investigation for taking bribes from the companies and stealing workers’ dues money. The UAW, however, is only the clearest expression of a universal process.

A vast political and social differentiation has taken place between the working class and an international tendency of politics, the pseudo-left, which is based on sections of the affluent upper middle class who purvey the politics of racial, gender and sexual identity. The politics of the upper middle class seeks access to and a redistribution of some of the wealth sloshing about within the top 1 percent. They wallow in their obsessive fixation on the individual, as a means of leveraging “identity” into positions of power and privilege, while ignoring the social interests of the vast majority.

 

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The tasks of the International Committee of the Fourth International

In many of the comments in the bourgeois press, the protests and struggles over the past year are referred to as “leaderless.” But this is only a preliminary stage in the development of the consciousness of the masses. The masses, accumulating experience in the course of struggle, are undergoing a profound change in their social and political orientation. It is in the context of this revolutionary process that the fight for socialist consciousness will develop.

The new decade of social revolution brings with it a new stage in the history of the International Committee of the Fourth International. The practice of the revolutionary movement is decisive. The resolution of the Socialist Equality Party (US) National Congress in 2018 explained:

An evaluation of the objective situation and realistic appraisal of political possibilities, which excludes the impact of the intervention of the revolutionary party, is utterly alien to Marxism. The Marxist revolutionary party does not merely comment on events, it participates in the events that it analyzes, and, through its leadership in the struggle for workers’ power and socialism, strives to change the world (see: “The Resurgence of Class Struggle and the Tasks of the Socialist Equality Party”).

There are many signs of the growing international political influence of the ICFI. During 2019, the WSWS experienced an enormous growth in its readership, despite a campaign of internet censorship. The total number of page views increased to 20 million, from 14 million in 2018 (a growth of more than 40 percent). The largest period of readership, with more than two million people accessing the site each month, corresponded with the General Motors strike and the auto workers’ struggle in September and October.

These developments mark a significant advance, but there is no cause for self-satisfaction. The growth of the influence of the ICFI poses all the more clearly the immense responsibilities and tasks that lie ahead.

The turn must now be to the working class, to the active intervention in every manifestation of the opposition of workers and youth to inequality, war and dictatorship. There must be tireless work to raise the political level, to create a cadre in the factories and in the schools, to explain the lessons of history and the nature of capitalism. There will be no shortage of people determined to fight for socialism.

But this determination must be armed with a strategy that unifies the struggles of the working class in a worldwide movement for socialism.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the assassination of Leon Trotsky—the co-leader with Lenin of the Russian Revolution and founder of the Fourth International—by a Stalinist agent on August 20, 1940. In the final years of his life, Trotsky placed enormous emphasis on the role of revolutionary leadership. “The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of revolutionary leadership,” he wrote in the founding document of the Fourth International.

Now it is a question of building the ICFI internationally, of expanding the Socialist Equality Parties in countries where they exist, and building new sections in countries where the ICFI does not yet have an organized presence. The enormous historical foundation upon which this movement rests, the conscious repository of the experiences of the international working class, must be brought forward in the developing struggles of the working class and forging the path to socialism.

As we begin this decade, the ICFI recalls the words with which Trotsky concluded the founding document of the Fourth International:

Workers—men and women—of all countries, place yourselves under the banner of the Fourth International. It is the banner of your approaching victory!

For information on joining the SEP or building a section of the ICFI in your country, click here.

David North and Joseph Kishore

 

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The 1917 Russian Revolution

No War but Class War! “None are more helplessly enslaved than those that believe they are free.” – New & Used Revolutionary & Progressive Books, 60s 70s Memorabilia, Posters; fah451bks.wordpress.com

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