No 1548 14th January 2019
Trump federal shutdown builds chauvinism and jingoistic hatred, to mobilise all-out international aggression which is capitalism's only way out of its Catastrophic breakdown and collapse. Syria troop withdrawal part of the same agenda, abandoning the post-war police role for the floundering US leaving rival imperialist powers to fend for themselves, as fraudulent post-war "democratic international community" consensus breaks down. Giant shift also reflects capitalist weakness and fearfulness, in unprecedented ruling class splits and paralysis, terrified by the implications. All out conflict between imperialist powers themselves due as capitalism's crisis faces greater collapse than the 1930s and its inevitable end in trade war and then shooting war. Stock Exchange turmoil and sales falls all signal imminent return of 2008 global meltdown, only temporarily put off by QE money printing. Massacres and mafia-style killings the true degenerate face of "freedom and democracy" but "left" still fails to give workers a revolutionary lead
The seemingly bizarre oscillations of the Trumpite White House continue to challenge analysis and understanding of the unfolding capitalist crisis.
How, for example, to reconcile blustering “America First” bullying threats in all directions, trying to re-assert US global dominance, with the potentially humiliating troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and Syria, seemingly acknowledging defeat after years of anti-occupation national resistance?
Such apparently deranged or at least paradoxical behaviour, with Trump willing to paralyse the federal employment system indefinitely (damaging multiple ordinary lives) to get his way on “defending America” with demands for $billions to build the Mexico “migrant wall”, while simultaneously pouring contempt on the Pentagon generals such as just-resigned General James Mattis for resisting troop pullouts, surely only make sense if illuminated by a grasp of full depth of the world capitalist crisis and its latest sudden lurches downwards towards total catastrophic failure as the Stock markets panic and "big beast" monopolies like Apple see sales start to implode again.
Then, far from being just some "loose cannon" as the revisionists have shallowly characterised him, or an out of the blue "turn to fascism" as many of the equally shallow Trots have it, the Trump moves become the "logical" path for an already degenerate imperialism.
There is only one way out for the ruling class from its disastrous "overproduction" failure, – all-out war destruction of the "surplus" capital clogging the profit system.
Stepping up the atmosphere of populist scapegoating and jingoistic belligerence fits entirely with the need for a major shift in emphasis, to hugely intensifying the world warmongering atmosphere, not anymore simply droning, torturing and blasting apart “terrorists and jihadists” (and their families) or invading "rogue states" to inure the world to renewed daily devastation, but readying it for total war against all and sundry.
Since the turn of the century the declining US Empire strategy has been to "shock and awe" the world into compliance with its continued dominance and the restoration and expansion of its world control, despite its completely bankruptcy, by singling out "rogue state" examples for destruction to "encourage the rest".
The monstrous blitzing into the stone-age of Iraq and pulverising of Afghanistan, continuing for over 15 years with the destruction of entire large cities (Mosul, Tikrit); the invasion of Libya and the induced sectarian civil war devastation provoked and funded in Syria with more cities and their civilians wiped out; the restorationist coup in Egypt; installation of openly Hitlerite fascists in Ukraine: the proxy war in Yemen butchering thousands and bringing 12 million now to the edge of famine, are all part of the return to outright warmongering, particularly following the shock of the 9/11 guerrilla war attack on New York and Washington.
And while it has not gone that well, triggering massively multiplying "terrorist and jihadist" anti-occupation anti-Western revolt and most of all the street rebellion of the Arab Spring, the "war on terror" remains useful to keep the overall blitzkrieg atmosphere on the boil and to provide a demonised “evil” to blame for the world’s increasing chaos, destruction, depravity and butchery, heading attention away from its real and only cause, capitalist collapse.
But Trump – or rather the belligerent and fascist-minded section of the US bourgeoisie that surrounds him – is preparing for the much greater blitzkrieg destruction to come, that against the biggest international rivals that have increasingly challenged and pushed out US corporations and interests in the great cutthroat battles for world markets, intensifying daily as slump bites.
Hence the conflict between sections of the American bourgeois establishment and its historically unprecedented vicious infighting (in itself a major symptom of the crisis collapse and its undermining of the usual bourgeois confidence and class unity against the exploited majority).
Despite serving Trump as chief of staff, General Mattis is more in line with the conventional establishment (which includes most of the Democrats, as well as "old guard" Republicans, and many in agencies like the CIA and FBI) which wants to hold onto the existing status quo of imperialist exploitation via "alliances" with other capitalist powers, while endlessly hyping up and then "containing" the external bogeyman threat of Russia and China, the whole kept in place by the network of US military bases garrisoning most of the world, alongside local stooges or other bourgeoisies, to suppress revolt and keep the corporate profits rolling in.
In this view withdrawing from Syria and the contradictory fight against both ISIS and that to topple the Assad regime (a split and sometimes self-defeating strategy) is an admission of defeat (with all its additional complications of "giving in" to Putin's Russian rivalry) and of course it is.
But pulling out of Syria is not simply a mechanical exercise in drawing back forces and conserving costly resources dispersed in the endless and now largely pointless and failed attempts to intimidate and control the world (though it is that too) but a re-orientation in preparation for all-out world war, the only possible end point to the crisis collapse if capitalism continues its rule.
This Trumpite move is a further step along the road of tearing up and abandoning all the old framework of "international community" and the "rule of law" with its United Nations pretences about "democracy" and "civilised standards" built up at the end of the Second World War, when the victorious US was established as top-dog power, but needing to revive and lean on its beaten war rivals in order to hold back also-victorious Soviet communist advances and the wave of socialist and anti-imperialist struggles they inspired.
The carve-up at meetings like Bretton Woods, saw the US take the lion's share of remaining capitalist world exploitation in return for bearing the brunt of the Cold War and doing most of the stooge-bribery and brutal policing functions needed to suppress and keep in line the great mass of the Third World, for the benefit of all the capitalist powers plundering rich resources and sweatshop-working the masses into the floor.
Now Trump’s overt trade war threats have been making sharply clear that the always underlying realities of international commercial antagonism building up for decades, can no longer be contained as crisis deepens.
Endless antagonism and jockeying for position are the norm anyway in capitalist "competition" which is anything but fair and open, especially in the modern imperialist monopoly period, and capitalist relations beneath the surface have always been a morass of dirty dealing and skulduggery, particularly between the great blocs like Europe and Japan and the US, (which is increasingly outcompeted by the newer kids on the block, as well as challenged by other rising powers like Brazil, India etc); industrial espionage, trade "punishments" (bank penalties, tax evasion fines etc), tariffs and production "standards" blockage of markets are all constantly deployed to outdo and best the rivals in any way possible.
Even so there was a relative "stability" in the old divvying-up of the post-war neo-colonial boom booty.
But there is no longer any room for that because the uneven development of capitalism has put increasing tension on the old arrangement which is now unbearable as the post-war boom hits a brick wall of overproduction, exactly as basic Marxist analysis has always made clear (see economics box and endless past issues of the EPSR).
To some extent this was already clear with the George W Bush presidency, when the conflict with the other imperialist powers started to emerge more sharply in differences over the second Iraq war, particularly with the French "cheese eating surrender monkeys" and outright diplomatic spats with the non-participating Germans.
But the quagmire of resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan and the huge costs, just as the 2008 bank collapse was brewing, forced a notional pullback using the Obama "liberalism" to rescue the discredited Bushites, and concentrate on propping up the world economy with Quantitative Easing, for which emergency the bourgeoisies all needed a temporary truce.
The eruptions of the Arab Spring, a full on street rebellion qualitatively jumping to a new level from jihadist revolt (though it continues too), further put the wind up the international ruling class.
But the crisis is relentless and the inter-imperialist rivalries are unstoppable.
So Trumpism is re-setting a new tone for the future, voicing outright hostility to Europe and particularly its biggest power Germany, trampling on international agreements, (UN, Environmental treaties, war-crime tribunals) and imposing tariff wars and sanctions on revisionist led China, Russia, and assorted minor victims like Iran and Venezuela.
The tensions also affect the Pacific where Trump's first move was to tear up trade arrangements, and it is not ruled out that US sanction measures be re-imposed or escalated even against notional current "allies" such as Japan, brunt of US tariff and trade hostility for at least three decades (one of the main causes of the long stagnation in Japan’s economic development since the 1990s).
Small wonder that Japan is turning back to the ultra-reactionary nationalism of the past (or rather bringing it back to the surface since it never went away) tearing up its “non-aggressive” pact and quietly re-arming. Notionally this is aimed at China and North Korea but there are already skirmishes with capitalist South Korea and things could swing very quickly against the US:
Japan is set to abandon its pacifist past and begin a long and dangerous road to militarization and potential confrontation with its neighbors, according to recently published defense spending documents.
Following the end of World War II, the United States military occupied Japan and imposed on the country a unique constitution which on the face of it, renounced war for good. Article 9 of the Constitution disallows Japan from maintaining a military force and outlaws the use of force in settling international disputes.
Much in the same way that Japan is party to an international convention which disallows whaling all the while it still continues to take part in the globally banned activity (and will now reportedly be rapidly accelerating its whaling activities), Japan has never really adhered to the principles of its so-called Peace Constitution.
For example, Japan is one of the world’s largest spenders on national defense with one of the world’s best-equipped militaries, known as the Self Defence Forces (SDF). The nation also plays host to the US military and its bases, empowering the United States to attack many defenseless nations.
Now, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet has approved the National Defence Program Guidelines and the Mid-Term Defence Plan (which) will see Japan spend approximately $243 billion on defense over the next five fiscal years.
Unsurprisingly, the document is mostly concerned with its regional arch-rival China, lamenting Japan’s “strong concern” over an “uncertain regional security” situation caused by China’s military expansion. Japan is also concerned by the perceived threat posed by North Korea. Last year, North Korea famously fired two ballistic missiles over Japan.
The media won’t put it so bluntly, but North Korea’s aim at the time was to demonstrate to the United States that it had the potential to strike its forces stationed in Japan, as well as Guam and South Korea.
While the idea behind the US military being stationed in Japan is to allegedly protect Japan from countries like China and North Korea, it arguably puts the Japanese population at greater risk given Washington’s desire to provoke and confront nations like those aforementioned.
For the first time since World War II, Japan is seeking to convert two ships into aircraft carriers in order to confront China, as well as the purchase of over 100 F-35s as part of this $243 billion defense plan. The plan includes the desire to acquire two aircraft carriers capable of launching fighter jets.
It pays to note that Prime Minister Abe’s grandfather was, as one Chinese museum described, a “Class-A-war criminal.” It is in his grandfather’s image and legacy that Abe has pursued such a redrawing of the Japanese constitution.
Abe has long advocated the disposal of the peace clause of Japan’s constitution, which some scholars would use to technically nullify the existence of the SDF even in its traditional form.
Ultimately the US presence was only ever there to garrison the country, despite the notional “alliance against China” and US competition is potentially the greatest and most direct “risk to the population” particularly if Tokyo is to be further hemmed in by US trade pressure and sanctions, as its rising power was before the Second World War (leading to its explosive Pearl Harbour attack to try and break out).
But this new turn in Tokyo is also one among many expressions of the unstoppable conflicts that the anarchic profit-seeking of capitalism will always come to.
The same deliberate fermenting of jingoism and (ultimately) crude nationalist hatred is also entirely in line with the xenophobic atmosphere being deliberately escalated everywhere else, as neo-nazism runs rampant throughout Europe with openly Nazi torchlight parades in Warsaw supported by the Catholic backed reactionaries who took power as a result of the Vatican-funded 1980s Solidarnosc counter-revolution (the bogus "trade union" fraud eagerly supported by the petty bourgeois Trot fake-"left") and now made just as explicit in the Ukraine by the Kiev regime installed with the aid of Western funded "democracy" NGOs to the tune of $5bn, and the CIA organised orange "colour revolution" in 2004 and then 2014 (complete with hidden sniper provocations on the Maidan to whip up reaction):
While the world celebrates the new year, Ukraine has marked the birthday of Stepan Bandera, a nationalist leader and Nazi ally, regarded as a hero by many in the country. From 2019, the day is an official holiday.
Thousands of people carrying Ukrainian flags, torches and chanting pro-Bandera slogans marched in the center of Kiev on Tuesday. A similar event — on a smaller scale — was held in city of Lvov in the west of the country.
Bandera, who was born on January 1, 1909, was a prominent leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (UPA). The group which was created between the two world wars primarily fought against Poland, Czechoslovakia (modern Slovakia and Czech Republic) and the Soviet Union for an independent national state for Ukrainians. While at first it was mostly propaganda, the methods later started to become more cruel and abusive.
The organization collaborated with the Third Reich long before World War II, hoping to get more assistance for its cause. Before the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Bandera was actively working with the Reich’s special services.
...violence conducted by UPA’s militant wing, included mass killings of Poles and Jews during the war.
Yet when the UPA was no longer useful for Nazi regime, it was subjected to a crackdown. Bandera was arrested in 1941 and spent three years in prison before being released as a potential organizer of resistance to the advancing Soviet troops.
After his release, Bandera, as well as his nationalist group was actively supported by Western intelligence.
He continued his life in Germany and by the 1950s he and his family were residing in Munich. But his past made him the target of several reported assassination attempts. In 1959, a KGB agent shot him fatally with a cyanide dart gun.
His status was made official in 2010 when then-president Viktor Yushchenko gave the highest state merit to Bandera’s grandson
This turn to jingoism also underpins the relentless march towards the disastrous Brexit “no deal” cliff edge by the reactionary “Empire” nostalgia wing of the Tory party.
Despite short-term economic disruption and chaos, and multiple longterm drawbacks and disadvantages for major industry, banking and finance from the point of view of much of the bourgeoisie, as the ever-closer monopoly production and trading links with Europe are severed, this apparent isolationist self-destruction continues to roll ahead (see EPSR 1546-1547 for further Brexit analysis).
Rationally assessed, in a world of steady progress towards greater trading cooperation and economic expansion, it would make much more sense to stay with the biggest and closest market sector rather than opt for the fantasy of a restored “sovereign” Britain whose world spanning influence and political and trading power was already on the wane with the tailend of its Empire more than a century ago, and is now essentially non-existent.
But steady progress is precisely what is not on offer, whatever the laughable reformist dreams of the Remainers and the desperate petty bourgeois constituency clinging on around them to hopes for “never-again" European peace and "democratic" cooperation.
Just the opposite. However "backwoodsmen" the rightwing Tories may be, they know like Trump, or instinctively grasp, that the coming period is one of utter antagonism, for which an atmosphere of isolationism and chauvinism possibly offers the ruling class its best prospects of fooling the working class, poisoning them with jingoism and heading them away from any grasp of the revolutionary struggle to overturn the entire monopoly system, that alone can change things.
It pretends that Europe is the problem rather than the world disintegration which is sweeping through all capitalist economies, and will continue punishing and pushing down the working class whether inside or out of Europe.
Unstoppable crisis is the key factor, ignored or remarked academically by the entire slew of fake-"leftism" as "perhaps" a feature "making things worse".
But it drives everything and is dragging to the world towards a complete disastrous disintegration which can only be brought to a halt by the complete overturning of everything that has gone before in human class based society – class war revolution in other words.
The world economy has been unravelling for decades in partial or regional meltdowns in currencies, credit and trade (Mexico mid-1990s, Argentinian bankruptcy, Black Mondays of all kinds, years of devastating SE Asia currency failures, Japan stagnation since 1990 etc etc) and this reached world culmination in the 2008 global banking disaster.
That was “rescued” only by piling ever more Quantitative Easing valueless credit into a system already overloaded with decades of inflationary dollar printing and “tax cut” credit creation.
Now catastrophe is back on the agenda.
The great banking failure of 2008 was only ever the beginning and is about to implode much further.
Giant pre- and post-Christmas lurches on the Stock Exchanges, sales collapses for the giant US firms tech firms, (and British too) and production downturns everywhere, all signal that the temporary respite in the collapse of the world capitalist system is about to end.
Exactly as Marxist science alone has continued to warn the working class (against the universal complacency and "say no to austerity" reformist pipe-dreaming of the fake-"left", all shades) there is no solution to the crisis contradictions of capitalism.
Sections of the bourgeoisie keep warning nervously just what is coming:
The pillars of the global financial system are fundamentally unstable and could lead to a frightening chain-reaction in the next crisis, the world’s top watchdog has warned.
Giant "central counterparties" (CCPs) that clear much of the $540 trillion (£428 trillion) nexus of derivatives are themselves vulnerable to failure in times of extreme stress.
This is a worry looming ever larger as rising US interest rates expose the weak links in global debt markets.
The BIS warned that regulators have inadvertently created a "CCP-bank nexus" - somewhat akin to the sovereign/bank doom loop in the eurozone - in which the two feed on such other.
The rotten apple contaminates the healthy banks. A fire-sale of assets spreads contagion. Banks may be forced to hoard liquidity to protect themselves. The BIS said "balance sheet interlinkages"and what it calls the "CCP default waterfall" could unravel with “potentially system-wide effects”.
It is just one of many late-cycle pathologies highlighted by the Swiss-based watchdog, the bank of the central banking fraternity and the high priest of orthodoxy.
Another brutal week on Wall Street has brought these risks into sharper focus. The three key equity indexes in the US are all in a full correction after falling over 10pc from their peak.
Central banks are walking a tightrope as they try to extract themselves from a decade of emergency stimulus. Quantitative easing and ultra-low rates have lifted debt ratios to levels that are 40 basis points higher than the pre-Lehman peak, this time led by emerging markets. Nobody knows where the pain threshold lies for monetary tightening in such circumstances.
The BIS says the nature of the world’s business cycle has entirely changed over the last three decades. For most of the 20th Century booms turned to bust when rising inflation forced authorities to jam on the brakes.
This is no longer the case. Globalisation and the inclusion of China and emerging Asia in the trading system have suppressed inflation. What now brings the party to an end is excess credit and rising debt service ratios. As conditions tighten, the financial system eventually buckles under its own weight.
The thrust of BIS research is that we may be close to this inflexion point. Standard & Poor’s says the number of junk bonds rated B minus or below has jumped from 17pc to 25pc over the last year. This is now the highest since global financial crisis.
A cascade of downgrades has begun. The spike has been even more dramatic in the eurozone where stress is nearing danger levels, leaving credit analysts baffled by the European Central Bank’s decision to halt QE this month.
The BIS fears a waterfall effect.
“The bulge of BBB corporate debt, just above junk status, hovers like a dark cloud over investors. Should this debt be downgraded, if and when the economy weakened, it is bound to put substantial pressure on a market that is already quite illiquid,” said Mr Borio.
The volumes are sobering. The ratio of US corporate debt to GDP is 73.5pc of GDP, higher than in 2008, although this is a children’s playground compared to China. The share of leveraged loans in the US with risky “covenant-lite” contracts has reached 80pc this year.
The $1.3 trillion market for leveraged loans has become an increasing worry. Prices of this debt on the secondary market are breaking down. JP Morgan slashed the price for an XOJET takeover loan to 93 cents on the dollar in early December to clear the transaction.
The Achilles Heel for the global economy is the surging US dollar. The BIS says offshore lending in dollars by European, Japanese, and increasingly Chinese and emerging market banks, has risen to $12.8 trillion. The figure is probably far higher if opaque “off-balance sheet” liabilities are included.
This web of dollar liabilities is coming under intense strain as the US Federal Reserve drains liquidity, pushing up global lending rates. A worldwide dollar shortage is emerging. This is acting as tourniquet, tightening an international system built on dollar funding.
..The possibility that a major central counterparty might “fall over” in the next crisis is sobering.
...The International Monetary Fund has also flagged the dangers. It warned this year that CCPs “increase the risk of a failure of the infrastructure itself” and could lead to a “catastrophe” if the all layers of defence were overrun by a big default. It would be like the failure of the Maginot Line.
All this brings us closer to the economic precipice. It worsens America’s most fundamental economic problem.
Economies depend first and foremost on spending. Otherwise, there’s no reason to produce goods and services. In the US, consumer spending constitutes about 70% of total demand. The rest comes from government and exports.
Export markets are in trouble. Europe’s and China’s economies were already slowing before Trump’s trade wars added to the stresses.
US government spending was hobbled even before the shutdown by a large debt, which Trump’s tax cut for big corporations and the wealthy has further enlarged.
Don’t count on American consumers to come to the rescue. Most Americans are still living in the shadow of the Great Recession that started in December 2007 and officially ended in June 2009.
More Americans have jobs, to be sure, but their pay has barely risen when adjusted for inflation. Many are worse off due to the escalating costs of housing, healthcare and education.
Trump has added to their financial burdens by undermining the Affordable Care Act, rolling back overtime pay, hobbling their ability to join together in unions, allowing states to cut Medicaid, and imposing tariffs that increase the prices of many goods.
America’s wealthy, meanwhile, have been taking home a growing portion of the nation’s total income. But the rich spend a small fraction of what they earn. The economy depends on the spending of middle-, working-class and poor families.
The only way these Americans have continued to spend is by going deeper into debt. By the third quarter of this year, household debt had reached a record $13.5tn. Almost 80% of Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck.
This isn’t sustainable. Even if the Fed weren’t raising interest rates – an unwise move under these circumstances – consumers would still be in trouble. Mortgage, auto and student-debt delinquencies are already mounting.
The last time household debt was nearly this high was in 2007, just before the Great Recession. Similarly, between 1913 and 1928, the ratio of personal debt to the total national economy nearly doubled. Then came the Great Crash.
See a pattern?
The problem isn’t that Americans are living beyond their means. It’s that their means haven’t been keeping up with the growing economy. Most gains have gone to the top. If the majority of households had taken home a larger share of national income, they wouldn’t have needed to go so deeply into debt.
Without wage growth, American workers can’t continue to buy without going into deeper debt. Unless they continue to buy, the economy can’t continue to move forward.
It’s the same sort of trap that preceded the 2008 and 1929 crashes.
After the 1929 crash, the government invented new ways to boost the wages of most Americans – social security, unemployment insurance, overtime pay, a minimum wage, the requirement that employers bargain with labor unions, and, finally, a full-employment program called the second world war.
By contrast, after the 2007 crash the government bailed out the banks and pumped enough money into the economy to stop the slide. But apart from the Affordable Care Act, nothing was done to address the underlying problem of stagnant wages.
Ten years after the start of the Great Recession, we face another economic precipice.
It’s important to understand that the root cause of those former collapses wasn’t a banking crisis. It was the growing imbalance between consumer spending and total output – brought on by stagnant wages and widening inequality.
That imbalance is back.
Precisely. In the end the restricted wages of the exploited workers cannot afford to buy the output of all the capitalist combines – exactly the great contradiction identified by Marx in his titanic analysis in Capital (see economics box) and with the consequences he and Engels predicted 150 years ago in the Communist Manifesto, of a society unable to move forwards and needing to be overthrown by the working class.
But they might never have written as far as the fake-"left" swamp is concerned, which despite its endless pretences, in 50 shades of red, to be Marxist, never comes anywhere close to making this clear to the working class, and therefore never spells out the need for immediate revolutionary understanding to be built, usually protesting that the working class is "not ready" (the fault of philistine refusal to fight for theory by these selfsame pretenders over decades) or that something has to be done "in the meantime", the perennial excuse for putting off the struggle for revolutionary perspectives (whilst pretending that, of course, that is the "ultimate aim" and they will "be there on the day").
Across the board instead it drags the working class back behind the notions of steady change through left pressure and "peace struggle", and long-discredited bourgeois democracy illusions through "rebuilding Labour" and tangling it up in the chauvinist diversions of the irrelevant Brexit (for the working class) on one side or the other.
But the need for revolution grows daily as relentless "austerity" grinds on, even before the next great Slump collapse.
And the gross depravities and barbarities of imperialist world domination grow clearer by the day, from the crude fascist repression and environmental contempt being re-imposed in Latin America by the corruption ridden rightwing and demagogues like Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil (or preparing the ground, by disrupting and strangling left reformism such as Maduro's in Venezuela) to the increasing war horror imposed in the Middle East by the degenerate Saudis (courtesy of British and American arms and military "advice") and most of all the ever more murderous persecution and butchery of the Palestinians at the heart of the Arab world, by the Jewish Zionist occupation of their land, now a year into the cynical weekly turkey-shoot slaughter of the Gazans protesting at the unbearable and inhumane besieged incarceration they have suffered for 70 years.
Washington's deliberate support and egging on of the nazi-Zionists, with the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem last summer, underlines the turn to open repression and the tearing up of the "democratic" niceties, no longer affordable in Slump conditions.
Far from "not being ready" for revolutionary theory, the conditions have potentially never been riper for the working class.
Street turmoil, anti-Nazi armed revolt (east Ukraine), anti-US "left" nationalism (Latin America), "terrorist" attacks, jihadism and Maoist revolution (Nepal) are all widespread.
The one condition that does hold them back is precisely the absence and failure of clear scientific revolutionary theory, and the mind-rotting idiocies of Stalin-originated revisionism and its offshoots (including the Trot "opposition", long soured into even more damagingly bilious outright anti-communism).
It is part of the blindness and opportunist fearfulness and hostility to revolution which lies underneath the posturing pretences of the all the fake-"left", that they deny the explosive upheavals in front of everyone's eyes.
First of course they have spent nearly two decades falling in behind the ruling class to denounce and "condemn" the great waves of jihadism and "terrorism" which have been erupting particularly in the Middle East but in many other parts of the Third World too, from Indonesia and the Philippines to many areas of Africa and obviously in piecemeal outbreaks within the major European countries.
Instead of recognising these as the early turmoil of spontaneous renewed anti-imperialism, however confused, all kinds of elaborate sophistry has been used to justify their denunciations.
Specious and incorrect pretences that "Lenin was opposed to terrorism" (not so - see EPSR 1248 eg) to ever more convoluted conspiracy theories that it is "all run by the CIA", or the "terrorists" are just "paid mercenaries", or these are "headbanging religious fanatics standing in the way of progress", are piled high.
But all these theories and explanations are tangled up in contradictions to begin with (whatever partial truth there is on some occasions) leading the "lefts" into completely reactionary positions.
What to say about the "Islamic headbangers" making up Hamas then, the militancy still dominating the Gaza struggle? Are they to be denounced?
Or about the Sinai fighters against the Washington backed and funded General Sisi regime in Egypt, lined up with Saudi Arabia, the Zionists and the Gulf feudal states?
Or even the sharia-based Iranian regime, deemed by the museum-Stalinists to be part of an "axis of resistance" along with the oligarch-serving bonapartist Putin?
Or what about the wooden logic that is followed by outright denunciation of the extraordinary and brutal ISIS revolt in Syria and Iraq giving imperialism a free ride to blitz and slaughter city after city as it has done in Mosul and Raqqa etc with full details of the horrifying civilian death toll there gradually trickling out?
It leaves much of the "left" lined up on the wrong side, cheering on the YPG Kurds for example because they have been fighting ISIS, or giving outright support to the local bourgeois nationalist/sectarian dictatorship of the Assad family.
But the YPG has stooged itself to imperialism in this fight, allied with special forces from the US (and secretly the UK too it would seem from the latest incident of two British soldiers injured by an ISIS missile attack) and given military weaponry and air support.
The shallowness of the petty bourgeois "left" is taken in completely by the supposed PC credentials of the YPG and its alleged "feminism" for example, because it has "women's brigades" as the bourgeois press constantly highlights.
But the key orientation must always be what is imperialism doing in any particular situation and who is lined up with it.
There can be no "freedom and equality" for women or other minorities, nor a self-determined future for the long persecuted Kurds until imperialism's meddling is long gone, and more generally the antagonistic contradictions of capitalism and the endless divisiveness and alienation it produces everywhere are ended.
That means focusing on the defeat of imperialism as the only path towards a socialist future, understanding that all setbacks for monopoly capitalist interests open up the possibilities for revolutionary socialist understanding to be built, however the blows are struck on the way and by whatever anti-imperialist forces.
The real lesson from the YPG in Syria is that single-issue politics such as (and especially) feminism, and abstractly and mechanically parroted "Marxist principles" such as the "right of nations to self-determination", far from advancing the cause of equality and liberation, can end up as their opposites, keeping in place the system that creates these inequalities and oppressions and obscuring the real balance of class forces.
Only when they are subsumed to an overall revolutionary perspective can any partial, or national struggle be made sense of, and clarity be reached for the working class about what forces are at work and how it needs to orientate its struggle.
Neither does re-establishing the flaky bourgeois nationalism of the Assad regime offer a stable and prosperous future to the working class there, in the Arab world in general, or aid the working class internationally to grasp what it is up against.
General Mattis' dismay is real enough at the US pullout and the West is definitely smarting at yet further failure to "deal with the rogue state" in Damascus – but hailing Assad-ism itself is nothing to do with Marxism, and in fact also ends up confusing the picture, particularly when going along with Assad and Putin's denunciations of all "terrorism".
None of which is anything to do with taking sides and supporting "jihadism" and its barmy and often reactionary ideology; the medieval Caliphate is not an answer to the damage done by imperialist occupation and blitzkrieg.
But understanding these upheavals and hatreds as part of world breakdown and revolt is vital if the weakness of imperialism is to be understood.
Revolt is brewing everywhere as the ruling class is well aware - in the “terrorist” and street revolt upheavals, and war, in the Middle East, in Africa, in India’s women’s "temple" revolt, in Nepal, in the “jihadist” revolts throughout Africa, in the solid doggedness of the east Ukrainian anti-Nazi working class, in the “Black Lives Matter” in the US, and now in Europe too in the yellow-vest rebellion in France already spreading to the Netherlands, Belgium and potentially Germany too, though the latter is already being hijacked by opportunism:
Dutch police on horseback broke up a protest on Saturday by “yellow vest” demonstrators who threw rocks and fireworks at them, a statement said.
The police statement said the mounted officers “carried out several charges” to end the demonstration in The Hague, which had not been approved by authorities and had turned violent.
Eight protesters were detained for disturbing the peace after clashing with police, the statement said.
Around 150-200 demonstrators took part in the protest march near government offices, wearing the hi-vis jackets also worn by anti-government protesters in France.
Dutch TV showed footage of the protesters in front of parliament waving Dutch flags, shouting anti-government slogans and later trying to break through a police cordon. Several mounted police and dozens of officers on foot could be seen.
There were no injuries, police said.
In France, meanwhile, demonstrators kept numerous roads across the country blocked on Saturday as groups of protesters gathered in city centres, but the anti-government backlash was more muted than in previous weeks.
The founder of a movement to unite Germany’s left wing has said it will take to the streets in 2019, inspired by the gilet jaunes protests in France.
Sahra Wagenknecht, who set up Aufstehen (Get Up) in September, said the French demonstrations encouraged her to believe it was possible to effect change without being a political party. She cited growing inequality in Germany and frustration over the government’s failure to adequately tackle it as a powerful motivating force for a protest movement.
The public face of Aufstehen, which has almost 170,000 signed-up members, Wagenknecht said she admired Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) and the Jeremy Corbyn-supporting Momentum in the UK and that she was effectively modelling the movement on them.
“We have big plans for next year, not least because we recognise when people go on to the streets to protest – especially those who have not had a political voice for many years who rediscover their voice by protesting – then political change can happen,” Wagenknecht said, speaking to the foreign press association in Berlin. “This is what we’re seeing in France right now.”
Wagenknecht was quick to stress that she did not support violence, but said she was sympathetic to those who felt the need to use it to express their anger. “I think it’s completely wrong to reduce the yellow vest movement in France to violence,” she said. “Of course there are those ready for violence amongst the protesters, but the movement is much broader than that.
“I’m clear that we don’t want any violence, but at the same time you have to recognise that it is a clear expression of pent-up anger. It doesn’t just come out of nowhere.”
The Marxist politician, who has risen to prominence through the Die Linke (Left) party, did not say what form Aufstehen’s protests would take, but said: “We will be visible on the street and in the public eye in 2019.”
Wagenknecht said Aufstehen, whose supporters include prominent German writers, political scientists, historians and actors, hoped to galvanise support from ordinary voters across the political spectrum and unite leftwing parties – particularly Die Linke and the Social Democrats (SPD), who are struggling in the polls, as well as the Green party – in a common front against the social problems dogging the whole of Europe.
“We don’t intend to compete with these parties. We want a movement that contributes to bringing these parties on the left together and instigates a new social revival,” she said.
She said the examples of France and the UK proved that initiating change outside the strictures of political parties had a better chance of success.
Conscious advocacy of "leaderlessness" is not only nonsense but deliberate obfuscation, and modelling a movement on Momentum and Corbynism, particularly after three years of watching it not only flounder but capitulate to bourgeois pressure on every significant issue, is nothing but the rankest opportunism, particularly in a country with a significant record of communist struggle.
But heading off spontaneous revolt is only necessary if there is spontaneous revolt.
All this is as yet only a few bubbles in a pot coming to the boil but far great turmoil is inevitable once the full economic crisis hurricane hits home.
It will multiply the chaos and disintegration of a collapse that has no precedent in human history, going far beyond the Depression misery and breakdown of the 1930s and seeing far worse conditions imposed yet on an already austerity hammered working class in even the "rich" countries.
Revolutionary politics has never been more needed.
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Distorting Lenin’s April Theses
Combatting attempts to undermine Leninism by the fake-“lefts” (arising out of their hatred of the dictatorship of proletariat) by distorting the historical record of the Soviet Union’s revolutionary history up to 1989 –– Part Two
To “stress the continuity [of Lenin’s intervention] with the old Bolsheviks” is to miss the point entirely. Yes, they understood the necessity of the “revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” in theory, but they did not recognise it when it emerged in the real world as a form of government existing alongside the provisional bourgeois government. Nobody expected this dual power. Lenin alone recognised it once it had emerged and “fully rearmed” the party with the correct understanding through polemical argument.
Incidentally, Lih’s claim that the “Bolshevik pratiki … shared the goal of soviet power” (with the implication that there was some sort of “continuity” between the old Bolsheviks and Lenin – who was clearly so out-of-touch that he did not notice!!) is meaningless anyway because he does not explain the nature of that power. It would only make sense if he was talking about the necessity of transferring the entire “state power” over to the Soviets. However, despite using this phrase on numerous occasions, Lih avoids any mention of the state.
The passing of state power from one class to another is a revolution (in this case from the bourgeoisie to the proletariat in alliance with the poor peasants). Despite sounding “radical”, Lih’s “soviet power” formulation is anything but revolutionary, and echoes the former Marxist turned renegade Kautsky who rejected the need for the proletariat to seize the bourgeois state, smash it and build its own state organisation under a proletarian dictatorship:
Kautsky either rejects the assumption of state power by the working class altogether, or he concedes that the working class may take over the old, bourgeois state machine.
But he will by no means concede that it must break it up, smash it, and replace it by a new, proletarian machine. Whichever way Kautsky’s arguments are “interpreted”, or “explained”, his rupture with Marxism and his desertion to the bourgeoisie are obvious.
Back in the Communist Manifesto, describing what sort of state the victorious working class needs, Marx wrote: “the state, i.e., the proletariat organised as the ruling class.” Now we have a man who claims still to be a Marxist coming forward and declaring that the proletariat, fully organised and waging the “decisive battle” against capital, must not transform its class organisation into a state organisation. Here Kautsky has betrayed that “superstitious belief in the state” which in Germany, as Engels wrote in 1891, “has been carried over into the general thinking of the bourgeoisie and even of many workers”. Workers, fight!—our philistine “agrees” to this (as every bourgeois “agrees”, since the workers are fighting all the same, and the only thing to do is to devise means of blunting the edge of their sword)—fight, but don’t dare win! Don’t destroy the state machine of the bourgeoisie, don’t replace the bourgeois “state organisation” by the proletarian “state organisation”!
Whoever sincerely shared the Marxist view that the state is nothing but a machine for the suppression of one class by another, and who has at all reflected upon this truth, could never have reached the absurd conclusion that the proletarian organisations capable of defeating finance capital must not transform themselves into state organisations. It was this point that betrayed the petty bourgeois who believes that “after all is said and done” the state is something outside classes or above classes. Indeed, why should the proletariat, “one class”, be permitted to wage unremitting war on capital, which rules not only over the proletariat, but over the whole people, over the whole petty bourgeoisie, over all the peasants, yet this proletariat, this “one class”, is not to be permitted to transform its organisation into a state organisation? Because the petty bourgeois is afraid of the class struggle, and does not carry it to its logical conclusion, to its main object.
Kautsky has got himself completely mixed up and has given himself away entirely. Mark you, he himself admits that Europe is heading for decisive battles between capital and labour, and that the old methods of economic and political struggle of the proletariat are inadequate. But these old methods were precisely the utilisation of bourgeois democracy. It therefore follows...?
But Kautsky is afraid to think of what follows.
[The proletarian revolution and the renegade Kautsky, Oct-Nov 1918]
As further “evidence” that Lenin’s April Theses did not amount to much, Lih calls another obscure Bolshevik, M. Kalinin, writing:
Because of his agreement on these fundamental positions [agrarian reform and “the goal of soviet power”], Kalinin insisted that the April theses did not constitute a radical break with the longstanding party outlook: “The method of thinking remains an old Bolshevik one that can handle the particularities of this revolution.” Neither did they constitute a break with recent Bolshevik tactics in March: “All you have to do is read our first document during the revolution - the manifesto of our party - and you will be persuaded that our picture of the revolution and our tactics differ in no way from comrade Lenin’s theses.” (Article 1)
But Kalinin completely misunderstood the dual power conditions Lenin’s Theses were responding to. As with the rest of the old Bolsheviks, he did not see the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship as a reality in the form of the Soviets who had won power but were rapidly conceding it to the bourgeoisie. He was still waiting for it to emerge, although, like the rest of the “old Bolsheviks”, he seems to have been won over to Lenin’s position within two weeks of the Theses because it best described the new reality:
The question of old Bolshevism. Kalinin defended old Bolshevism. But he also came to the conclusion that our present tactics were correct.
[Lenin: Concluding remarks in the debate concerning the Report on the present situation April 14 (27), first published in 1925]
Despite this, a lingering “old Bolshevik” outlook led Kalinin to make further tactical errors. During a debate on upcoming municipal elections, he called upon the Bolsheviks to join a bloc with the petty bourgeoisie. This runs counter to Lenin’s correct tactic of splitting the proletarian elements away from petty-bourgeois influence to creating an independent proletarian force. At that time, it included encouraging a split within Menshevism as some were breaking away the chauvinist position of continuing the imperialist war. Lenin’s contribution to the debate (which included a swipe at Trotsky for not making his own position clear to the working class) started with a polemic against Kalinin’s tactical error:
I. Since we have proportional representation, there is no need for a bloc; the minority is protected. I emphatically disagree with Comrade Kalinin, because a bloc with the petty bourgeoisie, with the chauvinists, is unthinkable. The very idea of a bloc with the petty bourgeoisie, who are supported by the capitalists, is a betrayal of socialism. With whom are we to form blocs, with the editors of Internatsional? But this paper has not been published yet, and therefore we do not know them. Chkheidze is defencism’s worst mask. Trotsky, when editing his paper in Paris, never made it clear whether he was for or against Chkheidze. We have always spoken against Chkheidze, because he is a subtle mask for chauvinism. Trotsky has never made himself clear. How do we know that Larin, the editor of Internatsional, does not follow the same tactics?
We must come forward with a definite programme. A struggle is now on among three parties: the first is the party of robbers and killers; the second is the party that shields these robbers with fine words, and finally, the third party, the party that refuses to support the robbers and stands for exposing the mistakes made by everybody, the Executive Committee of the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies included. The fault of the Soviet is not that it didn’t assume power, but that it teaches the people the wrong things, it shouts about its victory over the government.
II I am decidedly in favour of placing on our tickets the names of the Menshevik candidates who are breaking with chauvinism. This is no bloc. As far as parties are concerned, Russia is remarkably well organised. About a programme: the question of a paid militia, the question of food supply, the question of taxes—all these are important.
[Lenin:Two remarks during the debate on the question of the municipal elections April 22 (may 5), published in 1925]
There was a clear break between Lenin’s April Theses and Kalinin’s position because Lenin was responding to the new reality whilst Kalinin was stuck in ideas of the past. Despite this, and because reality had proven that Lenin’s position was correct, Kalinin continued to be an effective Bolshevik; Lenin even recommended him to the post of chairman of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee in March 1919 because of his “close connections with peasant farming” and later commended him for his effective work in this area.
The closest Lih gets to describing Lenin’s position that the Soviets were the realisation of the ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship’ is to describe them vaguely as “an authority” of some sort or other (just as a headmaster or a chief constable could be described as “an authority”), without explaining the crucial point: that it was a class dictatorship; or even go as far as to say that it was a semi-government existing alongside the bourgeois government:
[The] soviet … on the one hand, was recognised as an authority by the workers and soldiers, but, on the other hand, had itself ceded state authority to the provisional government. (Article 1)
In fact, Lih never uses the term “dictatorship” (which is the scientifically correct way of describing the nature of the state) anywhere in his lengthy series of turgid articles, except in quotations.
To further his attempt to erase the profound impact Lenin’s Theses had on the Bolsheviks, Lih makes a fetish out of the slogan “All Power to the Soviets!”, claiming that the origin of the slogan had nothing to do with Lenin:
All in all, the story of ‘All power to the soviets!’ can be told without mentioning the April theses - nothing essential would be lost thereby….The thinking behind the slogan derived from old Bolshevism and was never really in doubt. As we have seen, the open call for soviet power as a proximate goal was made in early April, when the debate over the theses had barely begun….
Unfortunately for Lih, his failure to grasp Lenin’s position that the emergence of the Soviets amounted the realisation of revolutionary-democratic dictatorship, and his inability to appreciate the significance of the April Theses, means that this statement amounts to nothing more than hot air. The thinking behind the slogan was “in doubt” – the old Bolsheviks needed to be convinced that reality had not turned out in the way they had expected it to before they could be persuaded to adopt the new tactics.
The slogan relates to the concrete circumstances of April 1917, specifically the dual power and the need to split the proletarians and poor peasants away from the influence of the petty-bourgeois compromisers within the Soviets, not to the general old Bolshevik understanding that “Soviet power” was “a proximate goal” as summarised by Lih. The Soviets needed to assume full state power:
The crux is: should the Soviets aspire to become state organisations (in April 1917 the Bolsheviks put forward the slogan: “All Power to the Soviets!” and at the Bolshevik Party Conference held in the same month they declared they were not satisfied with a bourgeois parliamentary republic but demanded a workers’ and peasants’ republic of the Paris Commune or Soviet type); or should the Soviets not strive for this, refrain from taking power into their hands, refrain from becoming state organisations and remain the “combat organisations” of one “class” (as Martov expressed it, embellishing by this innocent wish the fact that under Menshevik leadership the Soviets were an instrument for the subjection of the workers to the bourgeoisie)?
[Lenin, The proletarian revolution and the renegade Kautsky, Oct-Nov 1918]
Lenin is usually - and incorrectly - associated with the canonical slogan via his theses at the beginning of April. Nevertheless, Lenin does deserve major credit for its adoption. During the April demonstrations at the end of the month, Lenin was perspicacious enough to observe the slogan and note its possibilities. On present evidence, Lenin was indeed the leader who lifted it out of anonymity and made it central to Bolshevik agitation. (Article 1)
There is a small element of truth in this. Lenin did not reduce his theoretical understanding to a pithy slogan. And Lenin did observe during the April demonstrations and mentioned them in Lessons of the Crisis [April 1917] to illustrate the mood of the protesters.
But so what???
It is clear that the slogan “All Power to the Soviets!” came directly from his writings on the need for the Soviets to seize state power from the big bourgeoisie, including his Letters from Afar (written in March) and April Theses, and in numerous other documents and speeches throughout April. Only a pedant would fail to appreciate this. Is Lih seriously suggesting that the underlined phrases below had nothing to do with “the development of the slogan”???:
Judge for yourselves, can the war continue, can the capitalist domination continue on earth, if the Russian people, always sustained by the living memories of the great Revolution of 1905, win complete freedom and transfer all political power to the Soviets of Workers’ and Peasants’ Deputies? (e.a.)
[Lenin, Letters from afar, Fourth letter, concerning a proletarian militia, March 1917]
As long as we are in the minority we carry on the work of criticising and exposing errors and at the same time we preach the necessity of transferring the entire state power to the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies (e.a.), so that the people may overcome their mistakes by experience.
[The tasks of the proletariat in the present revolution (The April Theses), April 1917]
The theory came first, from Lenin; the practical summation of that theory in the form of a slogan came later. The fact that workers were using the slogan on protests demonstrated that Lenin had won the argument against the “old Bolsheviks” (and brought them over to his side).
In a polemical article begun by Engels in 1886 and completed by Kautsky under Engel’s instructions against a bourgeois lawyer’s attempts to make the audacious claim in a historical work that Marx’s conclusions to his economic theory were borrowed from the utopian socialists, the writers accused such professors of writing their histories as a pretext to “drag Marx down”:
… his achievements are attributed to other socialists in whom no-one is interested, who have vanished from the scene and who have no political and scientific importance any longer. In this way they hope to dispose of the founders of the proletarian world view itself.
[Engels and Kautsky, Lawyers socialism, Nov-Dec 1886]
Throughout his series of articles, Lih takes the same approach, this time to drag Lenin down by attributing his scientific achievements, developed with the rest of the Bolsheviks, to Kautsky, whose own political and scientific importance disappeared once he had reneged on the Marxist understanding of the necessity of the proletarian dictatorship and moved over to the bourgeoisie.
Lih’s aim (backed by the rest of the Weekly Worker’s circle of academic pseuds and poseurs) is to prevent the re-emergence of the revolutionary perspective Lenin developed and fought for, and which inspired the October Revolution and other revolutions world-wide, as a theoretical reference point and an inspiration for the working class today.
Secondary to this is to boost Kautsky (and his false notions of “pure democracy”, which is implicit throughout Lih’s articles) as the primary person to study to gain an understanding of world events, and thereby head the working class in the completely wrong direction, away from the only philosophical perspective that can guide them towards the only historically provable correct understanding, Leninism.
[continued next issue]
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