France isn't a Special Case in the General Crisis of Capitalism

The editorial from Bilan et Perspectives #19, magazine of our French comrades.

Submitted by Internationali… on October 28, 2020

Whichever way you look at it, the global situation is catastrophic. On the programme for the start of the 2020 school year, we had:

• The disastrous economic crisis, which predated the pandemic and was intensified by it, mass lay-offs, an exponential rise in unemployment and the attacks of the ruling class aimed at making us pay for their crisis following the grinding halt of production;
• A resurgence in the pandemic which had not stopped in the first place. History teaches us that this kind of pandemic tends to last a minimum of two years;
• A ruling class that seems to be stumbling in its response to the general political situation. One wonders if they know how to respond to a situation of which they are no longer in control;
• An acceleration of imperialist tensions.

On the Economic Crisis and Unemployment

The pandemic has officially killed nearly 900,000 people (statistic from 10 September) across the world, it has caused an international economic depression of a scale unparalleled since the Second World War. In fact, to find a decline in GDP of a similar scale (32.9% in the second trimester of 2020 and -8% provisional total)1 , we must go all the way back to the crisis of 1929, when in four years the GDP of the USA fell by 26.3% (excluding inflation).

And according to IMF forecasts, France is third among the countries most impacted by the crisis, with an expected fall in GDP of 12.5% for 2020, only after Spain and Italy.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also led to the loss of 715,000 jobs in France in the first half of 2020 according to the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE, 8 September). But the dynamism of activity recorded since the lifting of lockdown is slowing down. The INSEE itself has begun to fundamentally revise its growth forecasts for the third trimester. In fact, in the next few months, bankruptcies, which have been restrained up to this point, are set to accelerate. A plethora of redundancy plans were announced and certain sectors that were particularly badly hit, like the aviation sector, will start to see their effects. What’s more, the safety net of partial unemployment after lockdown will become less effective from 1 October, when the measure will become more costly for businesses and employees too, as state support falls from 84% to 72% of their total wages.

Also on the cards is a sharp decline in the quality of existing jobs. According to economist Hippolytus d’Albis, director of research of the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), the proportion of “underemployed” people out of all those in employment, which oscillated regularly between 6% and 20% in the second trimester, will reach

"a level previously unrecorded by the INSEE ... If we add unemployed people of all categories to underemployed people, we would reach a total of 11.5 million in the second trimester, i.e. 37.4% of the active population in 2018."

In addition to this pathos of the specialists who sanitise social reality, we know for ourselves that poverty will hit us workers, and that it will continue to rise. The statistics are one thing but all the effects that this terrifying situation has brought out are even more dramatic because all of the cogs of the economy are broken and the repercussions in every domain are difficult to anticipate.

On Intensifying Imperialist Tensions

There has been no shortage of imperialist tensions across the world, but these have intensified in recent months. This is a summary of the major points of conflict.

Between China and India, on 15 June in Ladakh (in the Galwan Valley in Northwest India), clashes led to a number of deaths including 20 Indians and an unconfirmed number of Chinese. But Sino-Indian tensions form part of a wider geopolitical context, the strategy of the USA against Chinese omnipotence. To Beijing’s chagrin, the Americans are pushing India towards an Indo-Pacific front around the USA, Australia and Japan.

The heart of the tensions lies between the USA and China. Are we approaching a new Cold War? The Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, at a summit of leaders organised by the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum, said, “Our strategy consists in pushing back against China in practically all areas”, citing “unreasonable demands” from China “over its sovereign territory, whether that be in the Galwan Valley, on the border of India and China, or in the South Pacific.”

Harry Harris, the US Ambassador to Australia, confirmed on 14 February before the American Congress that Beijing intended to take control of the South China Sea.

In fact, China is currently building military bases on seven islands in the South China Sea, islands that neighbouring countries claim as theirs. The Chinese Navy is competing with the US Navy. Its bases are first rate with its first foreign base in the port of Djibouti.

A little over two years after the trade war on China was first declared by President Trump, the USA has new campaigns. Their offensive concerns the autonomy of Hong Kong, human rights in Xinjiang, and the accusation of espionage against Huawei. In reality, this offensive serves another objective: to slow China down in its technological quest – in the banking sector, drones, geolocation and telecoms. Eight video surveillance and facial recognition software enterprises were already by 2019 on a blacklist in the American Department of Commerce that prevents them from buying American parts without government approval. And Huawei for example will struggle to maintain its offer of 5G. The decisions of America have since had a knock-on effect for its allies: Britain has just excluded Huawei from its 5G networks, following Australia. Other countries will logically follow them in turn, notably members of NATO.

And the Middle East remains a powder keg into which France is attempting to stretch its short arms. Tensions are sharpening between Paris and Ankara. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has criticised Emmanuel Macron several times this week for his management of the Lebanese crisis and the tensions between Turkey and Greece. France announced on 13 August a reinforcement of its military presence in the East Mediterranean with two Rafale fighters and two warships. But in fact tensions between Greece and Turkey around the island of Karpathos and regarding the search for oil between Cyprus and Crete are only one part of the problem. The crux of the matter lies in Libya and Lebanon, where France seeks to position itself as the “saviour” of Lebanon. In Libya, the game is even more complex, since France has fewer assets there. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has called the arrival of Emmanuel Macron in Beirut a “spectacle” and denounced it as a “colonialist” intervention. In Libya, Turkey and Qatar are on the one side supporting the Government of National Union (GAN) under Fayez al-Sarraj whilst Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are on the other in support of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, each side supporting with opposing militias. Russia finds itself in this latter camp with the support of France, Italy and Iran who have covertly sold out to a warlord.

In Lebanon, where France has a stronger political and economic base, the latter attempts to weaken Hezbollah which is the key to the situation. And here France is returning to the struggle against Syrian and Iranian power, that is, into the American axis. France is lucky to have its hands free in Lebanon.

Whatever comes of this, the East Mediterranean and Middle East remain a powder keg and everyone can be observed pursuing their interests there. The fronts are not yet stabilised, which prevents the development of a more open war.

On the Political Crisis

The governments and the ruling class appear to have reached the pinnacle of incompetence. Natural phenomenons seem to be in league against the perpetuation of exploitation (which must be protected as a priority for capital) and thus the operation of businesses. States are incapable of putting in place what they themselves promised. We may cite as a significant example the existence of the report Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus as an Agent of Emerging and Reemerging Infection, published in October 2007 by the Clinical Microbiology Reviews, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology. It states:

"Coronaviruses are well known to undergo genetic recombination, which may lead to new genotypes and outbreaks. The presence of a large reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, together with the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China, is a time bomb. The possibility of the reemergence of SARS and other novel viruses from animals or laboratories and therefore the need for preparedness should not be ignored."

This was not heeded because the only thing that matters under capitalism is the production of profit. In the introduction of the report, we read:

"The small reemergence of SARS in late 2003 after the resumption of the wildlife market in southern China and the recent discovery of a very similar virus in horseshoe bats, bat SARS-CoV, suggested that SARS can return if conditions are fit for the introduction, mutation, amplification, and transmission of this dangerous virus."

This is why capitalism, like all class societies, does not deign to concern itself with the health of humanity. Once more, we confirm that we can no longer expect anything of it. And in this way the ruling class demonstrates that it has been overwhelmed by the current situation, the measures and counter-measures succeed one another at a rate to make one’s head spin. The credibility of the media and the state is called into question like never before.

The Social Situation

Despite measures that destroy liberties taken in all countries ostensibly to bring the pandemic under control, the revolts have not stopped.

The revolts that have attracted the most media attention are those that have developed in the USA. But it suffices to say that outbreaks of struggle are visible everywhere. They are all linked to the decline in material conditions of both the working class (in the broadest sense) and important strata of the petty bourgeoisie.

What has been happening in Belarus seems unfortunately to be going the same way. Faced with a mass mobilisation – general strikes in numerous industrial sectors, demonstrations, confrontations with the police – the working class is still not acting independently of bourgeois forces and often remains nationalist by flying the national flag. This same thing is happening in Lebanon.

And even in Libya, where warlords make laws with no regard for the population, thousands of Libyans, chiefly young people, demonstrated in Tripoli for the third consecutive day on Tuesday 25 August, against corruption and the deterioration of their living conditions.

The Covid pandemic has halted the rise in struggles from 2019 across the whole world. The struggles of tomorrow will no longer have the same character, as the rise in poverty post-lockdown will most certainly lead to massive uprisings. They will possess a more working class and less populist character. We are already starting to see mobilisations against redundancy plans.

The wage workers of Suez demonstrated at La Défense, in front of the Suez headquarters, against the buyout offer of Veolia (the global leader in water resource management), on 8 September 2020. The president of Suez himself, Philippe Varin, declared, “We cannot announce 500 million synergies and say that it will have no impact. I have never seen this in my life. If we look at Alcatel-Lucent, Lafarge-Holcim, GE-Alstom, every time promises were made. Every time, lay-offs followed.”

The lay-offs intensified with 750 job losses at General Electric (who took over the energy business of Alstom). Auchan got rid of 1,500 jobs following similar lay-offs at Nokia, Airbus, Air France Hop or Camaïeu in textiles with their 500 lay-offs…

But in August the Directorate for Research, Studies, Assessment, and Statistics (DARES) counted 275 restructuring plans between 1 March and 19 July, which got rid of 45,000 jobs across France.2

To this must be added the crisis of the Gilets Jaunes ("yellow vests") which is not really settled since they have not achieved anything and precarity can only rise further.

This issue of Bilan et Perspectives is therefore divided into several chapters: the health crisis and its consequences, the social situation and the revolts that are growing in the world, and finally the imperialist tensions that are developing in this capitalist system in its generalised and very deep crisis.

  • 1Le Point, 30 July 2020
  • 2Le Monde, 13 August 2020, “Le nouveau coronavirus, une aubaine pour les sociétés qui veulent licensier.” (“The Novel Coronavirus, a Godsend for Societies that want to make Cuts to Jobs”