The Socialist Party is affiliated to the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI). An historic meeting of the CWI’s International Executive Committee (IEC) took place in Belgium between 12 and 16 August.
The International Executive Committee began with a lively and clarifying discussion on world perspectives. Two comrades from the CWI’s Provisional Committee, Vincent Kolo and Cedric Gerome, introduced the discussion, with Tom Crean from Socialist Alternative (CWI in the US) replying. Over one day and a half, comrades from Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Greece, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Israel/Palestine, Mexico, Poland, Quebec, Russia, Canada, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey and the US contributed.
The discussion was framed by three elements which are central to the current world conjuncture: the advent of a new downturn which threatens the world economy with a new global recession, the dramatic escalation of inter-imperialist rivalries which above all is expressed in the new “Cold War” between China and the USA, and the mass upheavals underway around the world, especially in North Africa, Hong Kong and Puerto Rico.
The playing out of these processes, and the enormous impact they will have on world politics and the outlook of millions, will be the decisive factor in the development of the class struggle in the next months and years.
Throughout the discussion, it was emphasised that the “political revolution” carried out by CWI sections and members in the last period, to save our international organisation from a sectarian, dogmatic and bureaucratic degeneration, was a crucial part of the political preparation of our forces to be able to intervene into this exciting and challenging new period.
A new world economic downturn
The discussion revealed that, in many respects, a new world economic downturn has already begun. This is indicated by all the latest figures, which show China growing at its slowest rate for 30 years, and in Europe, put Germany, Italy and Britain all either close to, or already in, official recessions.
A new wave of economic crisis will be unique in history, in the sense that it will be the first crisis in living memory to have been primarily triggered by geopolitical factors. The deadening impact which the US/China trade conflict, as well as lesser factors such as Brexit, have on world economic growth is an illustration of the intimate dialectical connection between politics and economics. It is also a stark confirmation of how the contradictions inherent in capitalism, central to which is the tension and conflict between national ruling classes, stand in the way of economic progress.
The IEC meeting featured much discussion on the nature of the coming economic downturn and its impact. While geopolitical factors have been the decisive trigger, the underlying motor for this crisis is the same as that of 2007/8: global capitalism’s fundamental crisis of production and profitability. This is reflected in the colossal problem of indebtedness, which has worsened since 2008, and in the chronic lack of productive investment which feeds speculative bubbles.
It was also stressed that a new crisis will hit a world economy which has not fundamentally recovered from the last crisis. Many of the cards played by the international ruling classes to combat the 2007/8 crash – including interest rate cuts and crucial international coordination – are much less available to them to deal with the coming downturn.
The impact of a new crisis on the outlook of the working class, youth and all the oppressed, will also be different to 2007/8. The experience of the last 10 years of attacks, impoverishment and struggle will not be forgotten. While a new economic crisis, unemployment and insecurity could temporarily cut across willingness to struggle on the industrial plane, the political and ideological impact of a new recession will undoubtedly deepen the radicalisation which has taken place in the last decade and put more revolutionary explosions on the agenda.
A new “Cold War” between China and the USA
In the sphere of world relations, there is the intense and escalating conflict between the world’s two major powers. This historic conflict, which goes far beyond a “trade war” is pushing its way into the centre of world political and economic events. A tendency towards an economic, political and technological “de-coupling” of the planet is emerging in line with this, with both sides seeking to consolidate and develop closed spheres of power and influence.
Examples of this were given in the discussion relating to events in Europe, Latin America, Australia and Africa. The crisis around the Chinese tech giant, Huawei, has been among the most glaring examples. This is connected to the development of key ‘5G’ technology, which has crucial productive and military implications.
This is not a repeat of the last “Cold War”, which was at base a clash between two fundamentally different political and economic systems. The US/China “Cold War” today represents an historic showdown between the world’s dominant imperialist power (the US), and its rising imperialist rival (China). However, just as with the last Cold War, it is tending to divide the world into opposing blocs and increasingly forms the central axis of all world relations.
Several comrades commented on how the “Cold” nature of the conflict should not mask its seriousness. Indeed, in any previous historical period, prior to the proliferation of nuclear arms (which makes a new World War an unthinkable option for the ruling class in these conditions), this conflict would most likely have already resulted in a “hot” military war.
While the conflict will ebb and flow over the course of the next years, the fundamental contradictions which underlie it will not be overcome by any lasting deals or resolutions.
It also reflects domestic developments within both powers. US comrades explained that while low growth continues in the US economy, this is clearly running out of steam, in the midst of an upturn in strike action and an ongoing wave of “socialist” radicalisation, reflected in Bernie Sanders’ new primary election campaign. In Seattle, Socialist Alternative (CWI in US) is engaged in a reelection campaign to secure the position of Kshama Sawant in the council, in defiance of the world’s richest man, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, an absolutely crucial battle for the forces of world socialism.
Historic movement in Hong Kong augurs a Chinese revolution
Comrades from Hong Kong and Taiwan both spoke in depth about the ramifications of the historic mass movement which is shaking Hong Kong. For over 10 weeks, the masses have been in almost constant movement, with at least one demonstration of hundreds of thousands every week. Last weekend saw 1.7 million take to the streets!
There is live discussion among the representatives of the ruling class internationally over whether the Chinese regime will intervene militarily and make Hong Kong a “new Tianenmen”. Comrades explained that while this is unlikely in the short term, it illustrates the depth of the crisis that this represents for the Chinese regime, which is deeply afraid of revolutionary upheavals.
Socialist Action (CWI in Hong Kong) is active on a daily basis in the heart of the movement, and is currently pushing a crucial student strike initiative. In a movement which is largely “leaderless” and de-centralised, reflecting the lack of trust of the masses in the Hong Kong bourgeois “pan-democrat” opposition, our comrades defend the need for mass working class’ action as a central part of the movement, and insist on the need for the movement to spread to the Chinese mainland.
This mass movement, in many ways, represents the beginning of a new Chinese revolution, and coincides with a wave of struggle and radicalisation on the mainland. Tight media control and censorship in China and mass systematic misinformation, portraying the Hong Kong movement as a reactionary Western plot undermines the potential for direct mass solidarity protests on the mainland. However, the escalation of the many social and industrial movements which have been commonplace in China, coinciding and coalescing with the ongoing mass movement in Hong Kong is a possibility inherent in the situation.
Revolutionary upheavals in Africa
While CWI comrades from Sudan were unable to obtain a visa to attend the meeting, events in the mass revolutionary movement which has developed there were discussed in depth, along with events in Algeria.
Mass revolutionary struggles have rocked both countries this year, unseating two long-standing dictators. These unfolding movements have taken by surprise many a capitalist commentator, and frightened the ruling elites across the region, but also inspired millions of workers and youth. The brutality of the counter-revolution that has unravelled in some parts of the Middle East over recent years make these revolutionary upsurges all the more significant.
The struggle in Sudan, in particular, is one of the most advanced revolutionary struggles of the 21st century. It has witnessed the widespread emergence of grassroots resistance committees, which have been at the heart of mass mobilisations. The massacre carried out by the ruling Military Council and its militias on June 3, rather than quashing the revolution, provoked an even greater mass counter-offensive, with a 3 day-long general strike and a “march of the millions” on 30 June.
Unfortunately, the revolutionary energy displayed by the Sudanese masses has not been met with equal measure by the leadership of the movement. The ‘Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change’ (FDFC), the backbone of which is the union-based ‘Sudanese Professionals Association’ (SPA), have now signed a power-sharing agreement with the counter-revolutionary Military Council. However, this treacherous deal is opposed by a growing layer of people, and is likely to collapse under the pressure of events. The corrupt ruling clique is exerting an even tighter grip on the economy and has increased the military deployment of Sudanese forces in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, while the masses are suffering under the brunt of rising prices and shortages of food, fuel and medicines. In these conditions, new revolutionary confrontations are being prepared.
No political stability for capitalism
The increasing likelihood of a “no deal” Brexit in the coming months is the sharpest manifestation of the endless instability rocking European capitalism, which has been completely incapable of restoring any political equilibrium following the 2008 crisis. Comrades from across the continent reported on the political instability and polarisation which is a uniform process, now including the “core” countries of Germany, France, Austria etc.
While both British and European capitalism are opposed to a disorderly Brexit, political considerations push events inexorably in this direction. With Boris Johnson in power and both the Labour and Tory parties in deep crisis, British capitalism lacks any viable representatives capable of delivering a solution in line with its interests. The EU establishment, nervous about the EU’s existential crisis and unravelling, also feel compelled to “play tough” with Britain.
The European elections, marked by ever greater polarisation and a Green “surge” in many countries, showed how the ruling class has utterly failed to restore any confidence in its trusted political representatives, going into yet another phase of economic turbulence.
Likewise with Latin America, where several right-wing governments have been elected in key countries over the last years. Whether classical neoliberals (like Macri in Argentina) or right-populists (like Bolsonaro in Brazil), none has been granted a “honeymoon” of stability, despite the hopes of big business.
Bolsonaro faces the worst approval rating of any new President since the dictatorship, and his government is mired in internal contradictions between conservative, neoliberal and military “families”. Macri has faced a wave of workers and women’s struggle, and has indeed now been dealt a blow in Argentina’s primary elections coming 15% behind his main opponent, Alberto Fernandez.
On the other end of the spectrum the meeting heard how Mexico, which one year ago saw a political earthquake in the election of the left-wing Lopez Obrador (AMLO) as President, has seen a wave of struggle from an emboldened working class following his election.
The coming period will put governments of all political colourings to the test. The task of the CWI in all situations is to point towards the power of a united movement of workers and the oppressed. Only a socialist programme to end the chronic crises, inequality, oppression and chaos of capitalism offers a road to develop the economy, lives and living standards of the global overwhelming majority, and protect the planet in the process.
While separate discussions on women’s oppression, socialist feminism and the environment were held during the IEC, reflecting their political importance, and connected to ambitious plans for global dynamic initiatives on our part, it was emphasised in this discussion that these issues form a key part of any discussion on world perspectives in our epoch. Mass women’s movements have spurred working class struggle forward across the globe, with CWI comrades often playing leading roles, and women workers and youth have been in the vanguard of class battles of all stripes.
The global youth climate revolt, with ever greater sympathy and support among the wider working class, will see a new high point reached during the 20-27 September ‘climate strikes’, into which the CWI will intervene globally in an audacious manner.
This electrifying discussion showed the political strength, resolve and revolutionary optimism that remains in the DNA of the CWI, a revolutionary socialist international which is truly alive and kicking, braced for the great challenges and revolutionary opportunities to come.
By Danny Byrne