The Crisis of World Capitalism and the Tasks of the Left

Posted: July 10, 2016 in Political Views

In the past few years, especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the crisis of “left-wing” tendencies throughout the world has become deeper than ever before. Some of the supporters of the Soviet Union have become so weak, hopeless and pessimistic that a few have committed suicide, and even the optimists, have given up their “left-wing” pretences. Others have no plans and are involved in a search for “new” theories so that they can justify their continuing political existence. Centrist [Centrism meaning to swing between a revolutionary and reformist position] tendencies have mostly sought refuge in the arms of social democracy and have brought their whole past into question.

The revolutionary left has not been immune from this situation. Utter despair and pessimism dominates most of them – the struggle against capitalism, imperialism and an effective intervention within the workers’ movement has been postponed to the distant future. Many of them are also going to be busy searching for “new” theories for quite some time. To justify their inactivity they say: “The views and positions of the leaders of the communist movement were correct for their time, but to solve the current world problems we need new theories.” They also say that: “to develop new theories we must for now only concern ourselves with having discussions and educationals and avoid any hasty organisational work or intervention in the workers’ movement.” These people are actually saying that workers’ struggles have had a setback and capitalism is undergoing a process of renewal and proletarian and anti-imperialist revolutions are not possible for a period. From the standpoint of revolutionaries, it is clear that such attitudes are just the clear proof that some elements are breaking away from the ranks of the revolutionary left – they have lost their self-confidence and are trying to justify their own subjective problems by useless theorising. Of course, there also some other revolutionaries who unlike the “demoralised” and the “cynics” pursue their tasks and take the struggle forward in a new way.

Such fragmentation in the international workers’ movement in not new: following every defeat and dispersion in the communist movement “centrifugal” tendencies take form. For example, in the early 1930s a similar situation existed in the world. The Comintern had been disbanded by Stalin and his clique and revolutionaries throughout the world were defeated and demoralisation. Capitalism was itself in crisis and right-wing and Fascist movements were being formed. Under such conditions, many communists became revisionists and abandoned revolutionary theory in search of “new theories” and preferred to stay at home, or do trivial activities, rather than intervene in the workers’ movement. At the time Leon Trotsky, who remained true to the aims and ideals of the workers’ movement, wrote:

‘Great political defeats inevitably provoke a reconsideration of values, generally occurring in two directions. On the one hand the true vanguard, enriched by the experience of defeat, defends with tooth and nail the heritage of revolutionary thought and on this basis attempts to educate new cadres for the mass struggle to come. On the other hand the routinists, centrists, and dilettantes, frightened by defeat, do their best to destroy the authority of revolutionary tradition and go backward in their search for a “New Word”.’ (In Stalinism and Bolshevism , 29 August 1937)

What we see among the left today is a march “backward” by those who have lost their hope in the future socialist revolution. They even avoid the activities they believe in, let alone intervention in the workers’ movement. Whereas in the current situation the tasks of revolutionaries have not diminished, but have actually increased. The barriers that prevented intervention in the workers’ movement until now have disappeared with the collapse of the Soviet Union. For the first time in half a century, we are witnessing the emergence of a layer of the proletarian and revolutionary vanguard that is not tainted by the old deviations. But in the first place the tasks of revolutionary socialists must be deduced from the analysis of the specific stage of capitalist development. If capitalism has been successful in solving all its problems, and has defeated the workers’ movement at all levels, then – and only then – must we think of a different method of anti-capitalist struggle. Otherwise, we must continue as before with the tasks that have not been achieved. Therefore to determine the tasks of revolutionaries internationally, we must start with the present situation of world capitalism.

The Crisis of World Capitalism

Undoubtedly the collapse of the Soviet Union and the eastern European states has changed the international balance of forces in the favour of imperialism – especially the United States. The military aggression of imperialism in the past two years against Iraq, the US threats against Cuba, other Latin American and African countries, the Palestinians and others show this change in the balance of forces. But none of these cases shows that the collapse of the Soviet Union has resulted in resolving the economic crises of western states. The exact opposite has been the case: the crisis of world capitalism has not only not been solved but has actually deepened. Those who thought that the collapse of the Soviet Union would mean the alleviating of the crisis of world capitalism, are at the very least not in touch with the realities of the world.

Capitalism is in a crisis that is deeper and more fundamental than before. In the “Third World” the economic situation is even worse than that of the early twentieth century. Tens of millions of people in southern Africa live in continuing famine and the death rate has gone up. In Latin American countries like Brazil, which are supposed to be the most advanced in the “Third World”, the absolute living standard is lower than that of twenty years ago. All backward countries of the world, in terms of GDP, are in a worse and continually deteriorating situation than before.

In the so-called advanced countries of the world, and at their centre the US, the masses are under severe financial pressure and compared to the 1950s their absolute living standard has fallen. Under the guise austerity measures basic social services like education, health care, housing and so on are all under attack from the capitalist states. In the major cities of the US like Los Angeles, slums are growing next to the vast mansions of the rich. The riots of the poor in Los Angeles and other American cities last year, clearly show how dire economic situation is – and this is also true in the cities of the other industrial countries.

The root of the present crisis of world capitalism is in the structure of this system. In the history of industrial capitalism – in the last 170 years – twenty-three crises of overproduction have occurred. Following every economic recession a period of boom is seen. Usually during a boom unemployment is reduced through the absorption of labour-power into the market, and therefore the credibility of capitalist states goes up in public opinion. However, in the last decade, the economic situation of the capitalist system has not had the normal course of its classic period. In the 1970s the unemployment rate in the imperialist countries (the US, western Europe and Japan) had reached 10 million, and during recessions it reached 30 million. But during the boom of 1983-90 it was merely reduced by 5 million. During the latest economic crisis, 1990-93, the number has reached 70 million! The imperialist states are today faced with one of the worst economic crises in their history, and even when the boom emerges they will not be able to reduce the number of unemployed to the level before the crisis. The average growth rate of production and the basis for the accumulation of capital will be reduced compared with the classic periods.

Politicians of capitalism have also completely lost their credibility. Corruption, bribery and large scale theft – things that used to be among the main features of the “Third World” regimes, have now become one of the principal occupations of bourgeois politicians in the “civilised” countries. Many of the ministers, prime ministers and leaders of the Group of Seven “advanced” industrial countries of the world are either being investigated for accepting bribes, have been involved in corruption, have committed suicide, or have had a heart attack! The former “socialist” prime minister of France tried to put an end to the shame of accepting bribes by shooting himself. The present British Secretary of State for Trade and Industry had a heart attack after it was revealed that he accepted suitcases full of money from Saudi sheikhs to help the Conservative Party during the general election campaign. A number of former Italian ministers are under investigation because of taking bribes from the Mafia, and so on.

It is obvious that the leaders of the capitalist world are not only incapable of solving the economic and political problems, but are without any credibility in their own societies. In the late twentieth century, not only do imperialist countries not take a step towards solving the crisis of the societies of the world, but they continue to worsen the crisis every day – in this period we are witness to the crisis of the leadership of the ruling class on a world scale. The current epoch – since the early twentieth century – is the epoch of the collapse of the capitalist system. Even though the material preconditions for the transition to socialism are ready, but the degenerate capitalist states continue their rule. The crisis of humanity in our epoch clearly lies in this contradiction: the objective conditions for transition to socialism are ripe, but there is an absence of an international leadership for replacing capitalist states and organising proletarian revolutions (i.e., absence of the subjective factor). That which is necessary for the growth of the forces of production and the complete solution of the world’s population, is a revolutionary leadership based on the lessons and gains of the workers’ movement in the past century. In fact the crisis of humanity has been reduced to the crisis of proletarian leadership on a world scale.

Those who conclude from the absence of revolutionary leadership internationally that the capitalist crisis can be solved within the framework of the imperialist system, are very far from reality. And those who believe that preparations on the road to forming an international leadership are not on the agenda are deceiving themselves and will eventually betray the aims and ideals of the working class.

The Tasks of the Revolutionary Left Internationally

The crisis of the imperialist system, however, does not spontaneously produce its grave-diggers. The international leadership of the proletariat must be built by the proletarian and revolutionary vanguard. In the history of the labour movement of the twentieth century, two revolutionary internationals were built – the Third and the Fourth. The former became degenerated because of the defeats of revolutions throughout the world and the isolation of the first workers’ revolution. The latter was unable to carry out its historical tasks because of the deep crisis of the proletariat within the workers’ movement. Now the main task that confronts the proletarian and revolutionary vanguard internationally is the building of a truly revolutionary international.
But a revolutionary international must be based on a revolutionary programme. A programme that has in practice been shown to be correct to all toilers of the world. A programme that has the socialist revolution as its strategy and firmly adopts positions against any policy of class collaboration and reformism, opportunism or sectarianism. A programme that is the weapon for preparing and organising the workers’ revolution on a world scale and overthrowing the whole imperialist system.

The international labour movement did once develop such a programme. The victorious October revolution of 1917 in Russia was the impetus for developing it. The theses and resolutions of the first four congresses of the Comintern (1919-22) are the essence of this revolutionary programme. But for historical reasons this international became degenerated in the early 1930s and all the gains of the communist movement were diluted and destroyed – and a generation of the proletarian and revolutionary vanguard was destroyed. The Fourth International was built on the basis of the gains of the Comintern and the transitional programme in the next period. But after Trotsky’s death his successors were also unable to safeguard the continuity of these gains – even though they were in the first line of the workers’ movements throughout the world. The betrayals of the supporters of the Soviet Union within the workers’ movement, and absence of socialist revolutions, created opportunist tendencies among the supporters of the Fourth International.

The experience of interventions of “Trotskyist” organisations in the last two decades and the dispersion and divisions, illustrate the lack of success of these tendencies in the forming and maintaining a revolutionary international based on these revolutionary traditions. It is obvious that organisations that have adopted opportunist and right-wing positions in the class struggle have shown in practice that they are incapable of leading the workers’ movement internationally. So-called Trotskyist tendencies that gave “conditional” support to Khomeini at the beginning of the 1978-79 revolution in Iran and called him “anti-imperialist” and “bourgeois nationalist”, have clearly demonstrated that they have distanced themselves from revolutionary traditions. Likewise, currents that during that Iran-Iraq war who did not adopt a position of defending the working class and the toilers against both regimes, were lined up with the Pasdaran Army (conditionally or unconditionally) – in practice they have put themselves outside the framework of any revolutionary international. Tendencies that called the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua a “workers’ state” have shown in practice that they do not have a correct understanding of the strategy for a socialist revolution. And those who called the latest developments in eastern Europe a “political revolution” have shown in practice that they have lost their revolutionary orientation.

The revolutionary international – the party of the socialist revolution – can only be built together with tendencies that have shown in practice the correctness of their revolutionary programme to the workers of the world. Opportunists, sectarians and reformists can have no place in a revolutionary international. An organisation that is worthy of recruiting the proletarian vanguard internationally must adopt revolutionary positions in practice. Only such a world party is able to prepare for the world revolution, and no other.
Therefore the most fundamental task of revolutionaries in the present situation – while forming their national revolutionary parties – is preparatory work towards the creation of a revolutionary international based on the experience of the Comintern during Lenin’s time.

Maziar Razi – 10 August 1993 – London

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