May Day 2018 Statement of the Internationalist Communist Tendency.
This is not the happiest of times: Worldwide nationalist tensions, arms races and military conflicts are assuming dramatic proportions as exploitation and oppression are on the increase. These are not consequences of this or that egomaniac or incompetent politician but of the very inner workings of the system.
For the first time in a decade the IMF is not revising down its estimates for global economic growth. For some of capitalism’s cheerleaders this shows that the world economy is on the road to recovery. More sober voices however can point to the reality of this “recovery”. Once again it is predicated on debt – the US revival for example coincides with a huge new expansion in credit card debt. And debt makes the wheels of this system keep on going round. Debt was supposed to shrink via inflation and growth. But, with a low rate of profit, investment has been feeble, and austerity policies have only made matters worse.
According to the Bank for International Settlements the global debt burden was 225% of annual economic output in 2008. Today it stands at 330%. In bald figures Global Debt Monitor in January tell us that global debt (public and private combined) went from $17 trillion in 2006 to an incredible $233 trillion today. We are in a fantasy world where the production of the future is already mortgaged to infinity. The next financial collapse is not only inevitable it is not far off.
However this capitalist economic crisis goes back much further to the end of the post-war boom in the early 1970s. Workers have been paying for it ever since. From 1979 on, wages as a share of GDP have continued to fall as globalisation has brought about the flight of jobs to low wage economies. Today the wealth of the world largely rests in the hands of a few individuals. In the USA, for example, the differential between rich and poor is once again the same as in 1917.
Economic failure is now being translated into political instability. Neo-liberal conservatism (which brought us the 2007-8 collapse) and social democratic Keynesianism (which now cannot fund its welfare state) have both failed to solve the woes of the world. The old established governing parties are losing their grip and their credibility. Whether it is the complete failure of states (as in Syria or South Sudan), Brexit, the election of Trump, political paralysis or the rise of the radical right, wherever we look there is increasing political turmoil.
Much of this turmoil is put down to “populism”. Populism, in one form or another, has always been around but, as long as the old mainstream capitalist parties could pretend that there was some hope that things might get better, it was confined to the margins of the system. For capitalists “populism” now means the rise of alternative forces which they believe will destroy their control over the system.
After 4 decades of economic stagnation the rise of populist organisations has taken several forms. The populism of the Left (Podemos, Syriza, Corbyn’s Labour, Sanders’ “socialism”) channels workers anger into the safety of the ballot box, without having programmes to challenge the system. It will thus fail. The populism of the right is more dangerous since it is built on the politics of fear. Their nationalist message is not only about “America First” or “taking back control” and the like. It is built on hatred of the “other”. Falling living standards? It is the fault of Jews, Muslims, or migrants in general. This has brought about the rise of anti-semitic and Islamophobic attacks as well as those on migrants (themselves already the victims of wars brought to Africa and Asia by the world’s richest capitalist powers).
Trade Wars …
And this rabid nationalism does not end there. In emphasising the need to defend the national economy against “them”, the outsiders and the foreigners, this xenophobia is taking the world down a dangerous road. The global capitalist system grew stronger after World War Two on the basis of the US economy and its institutions which presided over a boom unprecedented in capitalist history.
This all came to an end when the US could no longer maintain the dollar “as good as gold” in 1971. Since then the process has been long and slow but there has been a relative decline in the dominance of the US economy over the rest of the world, disguised by the fact that the rest of the world helps pay for the mountainous US debt by using the dollar as the premier currency of international trade.
Far from China ripping off the world it has been the US through the general use of the dollar that has been getting a free ride. No other country in the world could keep printing its currency to cover its growing debts unless that currency mainly circulated abroad.
When a poor, developing China started building its manufacturing base and increasing its trade with the West a quarter-century ago it did so thanks to US capital. Few imagined that it would now be the world’s industrial giant. China has already surpassed the US in manufacturing output, savings, trade, and even GDP when measured in terms of purchasing power parity.
… and Strategic Wars
The US might still be powerful but the trade conflict unleashed by Trump reveals the extent to which America has lost its dominant global position. Previously the US could ignore the fact that China made revelation of intellectual property and technology secrets a condition for investment in its low cost factories. Now the stakes are higher and they are not just about trade. Trump cited a 1964 law on the defence of US national security for the introduction of his first steel tariff. We are already at the point where a trade war is the precursor of a strategic war. This is not a simple scenario.
With the fall of the USSR American triumphalism about the “end of history” and the beginning of a new world order knew no bounds. However it did not last. The failures in Afghanistan and Iraq have been compounded by the rise of China. The danger in this situation is that there is a complete mismatch between the military power of the US and the rest. Its troops are present nearly everywhere, its navies control the world’s shipping lanes and its spending on defence is much more than twice the Chinese and Russians put together. If China’s growth continues, and its initiatives in Africa and Asia prosper as in the past, the US will be looking at a further diminution of its power.
The pressure for pre-emptive military action is growing and Trump’s recent appointments of Bolton and Pompeo brings the likelihood of that much closer. Behind them lie American think tanks calling for some action to halt China. As we have often written trade wars throughout history have been the precursors to shooting wars. There is no guarantee that the long agony of this economic crisis will not end the same way.
The Only Alternative
The only force that can stop it is the international working class, the majority of the world’s population. Although they have been in retreat for decades suffering unemployment, inflation, restructuring of industry and new methods of exploitation the wage workers of the world are essential to the capitalist system in war and peace. The signs are that after the disorientation caused by the destruction of jobs in the 1980s and 1990s the working class is beginning to re-find itself in a new class composition which refuses to accept just any old conditions. Migrant workers, workers in the gig economy and the proletarianised professional sectors of the wage labouring classes are already beginning to fight back. So far these are just scattered signs and not yet a massive and systematic response to the seriousness of the attack that we have been suffering for a long time but at least they exist.
It is not a moment too soon. The system is sick. Not only is the drive for capitalist profit threatening the peacetime existence of the planet through environmental destruction but the racist solutions of the nationalists threaten wars which could drive humanity back centuries, assuming it survives at all.
Struggles against exploitation, oppression and racism are however only the beginning. Strikes, occupations and protests can build confidence, provide experience, and win concessions from employers and landlords. These elemental struggles need focus and a programme if we are to escape from a situation where every struggle starts from scratch. This May Day, only 4 days before the 200th anniversary of the birth of Marx, we remember his words that “every class struggle is a political struggle”.
Whilst the working class needs its own organs to centralise its struggles across a vast territory, a function played in the past by workers’ councils and assemblies, it also needs an international and internationalist party to provide a long term political vision and consciously guide that struggle in a communist direction. This party is not a government in waiting and certainly not another parliamentary project (as Social Democrats and Stalinists maintain), but a necessary political instrument to unite and guide the movement for emancipation which emerges from the class struggle itself. It is this party which the Internationalist Communist Tendency has dedicated itself to being a part of to fight for a world without classes or states, without exploitation or borders, without famines and wars, in which the freedom of each is condition for the freedom of all.
Internationalist Communist Tendency
May Day 2018