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Arguments for socialism :: Consciousness
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The world crisis of capitalism - despite the surface impression of 'recovery' - has only got worse since the meeting of last year's IEC. The world capitalist class faces a further erosion of its political 'legitimacy' as the splits within the ruling class have sharpened and become more open.
There is continuing overall stagnation in the advanced industrial countries. In Africa and Latin America the promise of a 'brighter future' has now been dashed as the commodity boom of the previous period has largely evaporated, despite a recent partial increase in exports in some countries.
The fact that living standards of working class people are still under attack despite 'growth' shows that the crisis of capitalism is not over and there is no room for lasting concessions despite the propaganda of a boom.
Tensions between Russia and the US, EU and even to a degree China, continue to worsen. The Kremlin's initial support for Trump has now been forgotten, as the conflict of imperialist interests in Syria, North Korea and elsewhere continues.
It allows Putin's regime to use anti-western rhetoric at home, fuelled by the closure of its embassies in the US and the continuing controversy of the Kremlin's 'trolls' and interference in western elections.
In the neocolonial world, expectations have been lowered with the collapse of commodity prices. The goal of Africa, Latin America and Asia soon attaining 'first world' high-income and status is still far away.
National struggles have multiplied, not only in the neocolonial world - Myanmar's expulsion of the Rohingya - but also now in the heart of Europe, in Catalonia. In the modern era there has been a mushrooming of the national question. Older 'national questions' can be resurrected, while entirely new 'national' issues can be brought to the fore, by economic collapse or war.
This is a key question for the Middle East where the legacy of past imperialist oppression and occupation left a patchwork of states, many of them cutting across the living bodies of groups and peoples, separating them. This has now been enormously aggravated by the recent wars in the region which have resulted in a 'victory' of a kind over Isis but a mountain of victims, massive displacement, devastation and the flattening of cities, as well as the armies of refugees.
Because of Isis's messianic methods it was bound to alienate the mass of the peoples of the Middle East and elsewhere. However, this does not mean that it is finished.
It will now fall back on its original guerrilla tactics in Iraq and other countries in the region. There will probably be an attempt at an intensified terrorist campaign.
In Latin America there is also a deepening of the economic crisis, a sharp polarisation between the classes, political crises aggravated by endemic corruption, and the inability of the national capitalist class, insofar as it now exists as a coherent force, to show a way forward for society.
Brazil, the biggest country in Latin America and previously the most prosperous, is presently experiencing a major crisis, which has produced almost a position of political deadlock following the impeachment - a 'soft coup' - of the Workers' Party's President Dilma.
The previous vice-president Temer, who orchestrated her removal and replaced her, has been shown to be implicated in colossal bribery and corruption. He faces massive opposition from the trade unions and the working class, which has already resulted in the unions organising general strikes and calls for his own impeachment!
The capitalist press speculates that public scepticism about the privatisation drive, already milked by the opposition and the unions, could further push Brazil in a 'populist' direction - a further radicalisation of the workers' movement - in the elections.
The social, political and economic crisis in Venezuela has worsened. The ruling class internationally has tried to use this to discredit the idea of 'socialism' as it did following the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in eastern Europe. The crisis which exists is not, of course, a failure of socialism but a consequence of not breaking with capitalism.
The Maduro regime has swung further to the right and is struggling to maintain itself in power to defend the interests of the ruling bureaucratic elite, which includes the main sections of the military. At the same time, the reactionary right-wing opposition has failed to gain sufficient support and momentum to remove the regime.
Donald Trump's presidential election 'victory' was a delayed reaction to the 2007-08 world economic crisis. We argued that a Trump presidency would turn out to be an unmitigated disaster for US and world capitalism. And so it has proved to be.
Trump has implicitly threatened to eviscerate - through a 'tactical' nuclear attack - North Korea and overthrow its 'rocket man' Kim Jong-un. Trump has now also attacked Iran, thereby putting in jeopardy the agreement on Iran's nuclear facilities as well as upsetting the already delicate balance in the war-torn Middle East.
His policies have brought him into collision, not only with the working and middle classes, but also with significant sections of his 'own side', the congress Republicans. Although he seems to have maintained his support among his 'electoral base', which includes significant sections of displaced and alienated workers.
However, his ratings overall are at the lowest level for any president at this stage. He has also seriously clashed with the dominant sections of the US ruling class as well as US traditional 'allies'.
The 'militarisation' of the US government - with a big increase in the number of generals in the present administration, at the expense of civilians who usually directly wield the power - rather than causing consternation, has actually produced a sense of relief among the US capitalists! They are perceived as more of a check on the out-of-control Trump!
Mass opposition is gathering apace on any number of issues and their combination could force Trump from office even before the mid-term elections in November 2018.
His erratic behaviour, his parliamentary bonapartism, of balancing between his own party, the Republicans, and courting the Democrats - for instance on raising the ceiling for government debt and on other issues - have alienated him from the congress Republicans.
He is obviously flirting with the idea of splitting the Republican Party which, if it was successful, would be the first time this had been done successfully since Abraham Lincoln before the US Civil War. Trump could form his own new 'populist' party.
This could be paralleled with a similar fracture within the Democratic Party, with Bernie Sanders and his forces around 'Our Revolution' splitting from the Democrats and creating some new formation. This could become in time either a new radical left alternative, or even lead to a new mass workers' party.
Four major parties would then be in competition for votes and influence. A new mass party or even radical formation would represent a big step forward for the US working class.
Rarely has the world faced a more critical phase, with the crisis tending to infect all areas, all continents, with no hope in sight for the capitalists to insulate their system from serious crises and the resulting mass opposition. The working class has been profoundly affected with the beginnings of an important change in consciousness.
Economic stagnation, with a spluttering economic 'revival' - mostly in low-paid, insecure jobs - in a few regions and countries, has further stimulated growing unease and a questioning of the validity of the system among the mass of the population, particularly those at the 'bottom', the working class and the poor.
This has resulted in virtually permanent political instability, particularly reflected in the recent elections in Europe where the traditional parties have been weakened and both right-wing populist and new reformist left organisations have made headway. But then these forces very quickly lose their popularity.
There has been a speeding up of events with the disappointment of the masses sometimes speedily reflected in the unpopularity of those parties who are seen as the victors.
A new resurgence in the mood of opposition to the capitalist system, of a pronounced anti-capitalism, has also taken hold and has powered the Corbyn movement in Britain, led to developments around Bernie Sanders in the US, and the Melenchon movement in France.
Shaken by these developments the capitalists, their parties and institutions have sought to head this off by presenting themselves as 'agents of change' (Macron in France, Kurz in Austria).
Their mantra includes criticisms of inequality. Whereas following the 2007-08 crisis the search was on for a 'better capitalism', now there is more demand among the working class and the youth for an alternative to the capitalist system as a whole.
The current economic 'upswing' affecting the US and Europe in the main has been fuelled by the injection of liquidity, colossal debt, which in turn has been sustained by low interest rates.
Since 2008, China's credit-driven growth has accounted for more than half of global growth. The recent Chinese 'Communist' Party Congress is unlikely to result in any solution to this crisis.
Its main purpose was to cement the authority of Xi Jinping as the undisputed leader of the party and thereby the government. He also made clear that the 'party' - the ruling elite - would continue to control the army, economy, etc.
However, such displays of unrivalled power are not a guarantee of stability but the opposite. If power is centralised it is because of the fear of economic, social and political storms to come in China.
Moreover, by concentrating this power nominally in the hands of one man, the opposition will similarly concentrate on this individual as well as the regime that supports him.
The 'One China' policy and the brutal manifestation of this in the Hong Kong repression, while having the appearance of being successful in the short term, are ultimately destined to fail. You cannot hold a whole people in chains in the modern era of mass communication through social media.
Events arising from the crisis have had a profound effect in beginning to change consciousness of the masses worldwide.
We are now seeing the rejection by significant layers of neoliberalism. This has led to a generalised phase of left radicalisation in the workers' movement internationally.
This can be followed by a more distinct left reformism and become an international phenomenon. It will give way under the hammer blows of the events that loom to a more determined class mood and consciousness among the working class and particularly the youth.
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Article dated 13 December 2017
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
Lessons from history
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