Class struggles on the rise
Over 400 people attended the annual World School organised by the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) in Belgium between July 11 & 16. The 2010 school took place against the background of capitalist governments throughout the world taking savage measures against the working class to cut the huge rise in budget deficits following the collapse of the world banking system in 2008-09. The first discussion at the school was on the World Capitalist Crisis and the Class Struggle in Europe, it was introduced by Peter Taaffe from the CWI International Secretariat.
Peter explained that capitalism is beset with crises everywhere. US imperialism has been enmeshed in the unwinnable war in Afghanistan now for 10 years, longer than its intervention in Vietnam. In Iraq, there is an uneasy ’peace’ and sectarian civil war could reignite, leading to the division of the country.
Similarly, the inevitable despoliation of the planet will occur if capitalism is left in control. The BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is the latest demonstration of complete irresponsibility and lust for profit. We have already had the ‘war for oil’; now water disputes are numerous, including in Central Asia and Latin America. The Copenhagen Summit on climate change was an absolute failure.
But Peter pointed out that capitalism’s greatest incapacity is shown in the state of the world economy, which is ultimately the most important factor shaping all other issues in society. Only a matter of months ago the capitalists internationally defended their fiscal stimulus plans. But in a dizzying switch at the Toronto G20 summit, a majority of the capitalist leaders swung over to ‘austerity’! Obama was isolated, which is a sign of weakness in that he could not impose US capitalism’s will, despite it still having the biggest economy in the world.
EU drum beat of austerity
European capitalism marches – at the moment – to the drumbeat of those favouring ’austerity’. But the road of austerity will enormously compound the economic crisis. The economic ‘recovery’ was mainly due to restocking. There is now a ’sovereign debt crisis’ because government debt soared due to the state bail-out of the banks and the rise of unemployment and welfare payments.
Peter concurred with American Keynesian economist Paul Krugman, when Krugman said that the crisis would be more like the depression of the late 19th century, which was a drawn-out economic stagnation, than the 1930s crisis. Keynesianism cannot solve the problems of capitalism in the long term because eventually either the working class pays through increased taxes and inflation or the capitalists go on an investment ’strike’, if they are made to pay. One commentator claimed that Keynesianism was ‘dead’ following the G20 summit. But further stimulus packages may be necessary to rescue the system, particularly if there is a tsunami of mass protests.
Germany has had some increase in exports but the rest of the de-industrialised world, particularly the rest of Europe, will not be as lucky. China is now facing a slowdown due to overheating and a property collapse. There has been over-investment and massive surplus capacity. China’s decision to revalue its currency, the renminbi, has seen a miserly rise (0.77%) so far and is not having the desired effect of cutting China’s trade surplus with the US.
Even if there is some economic revival in Germany, it will not be noticed by the masses because of the increase in unemployment, accumulated losses in income and the fall in living standards. Millions of workers in Europe now are on worse conditions than existed before crisis, with the general enforcement of neo-liberal policies.
Britain’s new coalition government leads the way in attacking workers’ conditions. Brutal cuts plans will cut redundancy payments to civil servants and the whole public sector faces a reduction in pension entitlements. There is a European-wide assault on pensions. In France, President Sarkozy wants to raise the pension age to 62 by 2018.
Peter pointed out that Greece is now seen as the weakest link in the chain of European capitalism. The European capitalists see Greece as a ‘stress test’ of the ability of the working class to resist. There has been an unprecedented propaganda barrage of lies. Workers have responded with six general strikes.
General strikes or general strike possibilities are rooted in the situation in many countries of Europe, said Peter. France has had two public-sector strikes in the last month against pension attacks. We have also seen similar strike action in Italy, Spain and Portugal, with a pronounced shift towards the left in Spain, in particular, but also in some workers’ organisations in Portugal. The trade union leaders are desperately trying to apply the brakes to fracture resistance.
Peter also dealt briefly with the crises in other parts of the world. In the Middle East there is no possibility of agreement between Israel and Palestine. Obama will largely not act due to the ‘proximity’ of the midterm elections in the US. The whole of the Middle East is affected by the economic crisis; Egypt especially is in a catastrophic position and is on the brink of big social movements.
What we have seen in China, with strikes and protests for better pay and against terrible working and social conditions, is an echo of the stirrings of workers in Russia in 1896. Workers in China today are raising the need for independent unions.
Under capitalism the terrible prospect of “all against all” is raised. This is graphically illustrated by the nightmare of Mexico and the drug wars which have enveloped a section of society. The only way to avoid this is if the working class measures up to the tasks of history, embraces struggle, socialism and revolutionary ideas, and then carries through the transformation of society. But if you do not have correct theory you will have no guide to action.
The CWI analysis has been clearer than any other tendencies particularly over the last 12 months. We participated in workers’ struggles more audaciously and effectively than any others. Our comrades are prepared to make tremendous sacrifices for great historic aims. The working class will come to socialist ideas through its experiences of class struggles, of defeats and victories. The CWI must be prepared to grow, organise and to win the forces needed for shaping this century in the direction of socialism.
A common feature of contributions in the discussion was governments’ cuts and what is being done to fight them by the working class and the different sections of the CWI. Another theme was the anger and uncertainty building up amongst millions of people internationally who have seen a dramatic drop in living standards. Many comrades from Europe, the US, Asia and Australia illustrated vividly the situations in their countries. The world is on the verge of further explosions, in one country after another and the CWI will be prepared to intervene in the mighty events to come.
By Kevin Parslow