A decade on since the financial crash world capitalism’s basic problem of low profitability remains. The only way the capitalists can revive ‘growth’ is by starting a new cycle of accumulation and this can only be done if a mass of existing capital is devalued.
This happened twice in the 20th century as both the First and Second World Wars led to the destruction and devaluation of capital allowing the system to once again accumulate. With no other economic solution in sight this is where the world is slowly drifting today. The reason it is slow is because capitalists know that devaluation is bad for business. However if they can devalue a rival’s capital they can emerge as the winner in a newly centralised capital, as the US did in 1945. War is thus not something they enter into lightly but they are impelled down that road by the need to defend their economic and strategic interests against all rivals. Before the shooting war though, comes the trade war. In the 1930s tariffs were raised everywhere as free trade ended, and it further increased the tensions between powers.
Escalating Global Turmoil
Today we face a new trade war, the outcome of which is highly unpredictable but if past patterns are repeated then they will only increase the likelihood of war. In the short term these “local wars” are likely to be more of what we have seen, but with greater frequency and increasing involvement of the big powers.
The key to the situation is the US. It is by far the most powerful military power on the planet. However, it is now faced with a rising trade rival like China which it knows will one day have the financial, and perhaps even the military, strength to pose a challenge to US domination. The temptation must be at some point to use that US military power to crush a rival before it becomes too strong. In the longer term this is the big danger for the world.
China is playing a long game, establishing networks of commercial ties across Africa and Asia, and foreseeing the economic domination of all Eurasia in its “Belt and Road” strategy. It has had a few setbacks en route but it can weather the storms of a trade war already, thanks to its $3 trillion “war chest of foreign exchange reserves”. It is already thinking of using these to give aid to an Argentina which has seen capital drain from it due to the revaluation of the dollar.
In the meantime the US foreign policy has become obsessed with Iran in the Middle East, and the support it has given to Israel and Saudi Arabia over Gaza and Yemen indicates that they are not too squeamish about the human costs. What Syria has been experiencing for the last 7 years of unending war could be coming to more places as capitalist competition heats up.
This is not to say we are in the prelude to August 1914 or September 1939 when the most powerful capitalist states formally declared war on each other. There may never be another equivalent moment. All we are certain about is that the crisis is continuing, and that trade wars, partly visible cyber activities and barbarous “wars without end” are part of it.
The only force that can stand in the way of this is the working class. After 40 years of retreat and fragmentation there are signs that workers are beginning to regroup and fight on their own account. From workers in the so-called gig economy, through the recent struggles of workers in various branches of education from County Durham to West Virginia; to the more desperate protests in Iran, Iraq, Nicaragua, Jordan against low wages or no wages, water shortages, and simply the absence of the necessities of life.
No War But the Class War
Let’s not exaggerate about our local scene. These are small straws in the wind but, in some ways, suggest a way forward beyond the many small campaigns over the last ten years against this or that aspect of the austerity cuts. They are small and divided because there is no central point around which they can rally. The idea of No War But the Class War [NWBCW] is that it would not only incorporate and support every struggle of the class, but it would unite that to a political purpose which is to create a new working class political movement. The dilemma history has posed for over a century is socialism or barbarism. Though global world war is not yet currently on agenda we don’t want to wait until it is before we start to get organised. That is why we responded positively, despite our political differences, to the Anarchist Communist Group’s appeal for revolutionaries to rally under the banner of NWBCW (see their website anarchistcommunism.org).
NWBCW is not another Stop the War coalition – we do not envisage a cross-class coalition with conservative religious bodies, nor do we conclude that because one imperialism is particularly criminal do we side with their opponents. Working class opposition is to all imperialisms and their surrogates. There are no freedom movements based on nationality which can be supported by the working class in today’s decaying capitalism. We can condemn the horrors of Israeli imperialism against Palestinians but to identify with “the Palestinian cause” is to identify with Hamas and the PLO or the local ruling class. This ruling class does not invest in its own people but instead in financial speculation on Wall St leaving Gazans with no work. Anyone who tries to openly raise the issue of class there has been, and will be, summarily dealt with.
Similarly romantic notions about underdog nationalism, such as the current enthusiasm for Rojava, exhibited by some anarchists, need to be disabused. The Rojavan revolution is an imposition from above (or rather a dispensation to allow some form of local autonomous action whilst the real power lies with the YPG military commanders who have enjoyed success thanks to their alliance with US imperialism (and today are having to retreat as the US removes its air cover).
Socialism cannot be decreed from above. It can only be built when millions decide they can no longer go on living under this hellish system of death and decay. It can only be built when they start to create the organs of their own emancipation in such class wide bodies as workers’ councils, communes, factory committees and so on. NWBCW seeks to give a focus for all who accept this conception of the way forward for the working class, and turn our defensive struggles into a common, all embracing, struggle against a system which threatens the very future of humanity.
From the current edition (No. 44) of Aurora, broadsheet of the Communist Workers’ Organisation.