“that tendency which is growing up together with the revolution, which is able to foresee its own tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, which is setting itself clear goals and knows how to achieve them.” (Trotsky, On the Policy of the KAPD, Speech Delivered at the Session of the ECCI, November 24, 1920)
[Original title: IMT Resolution on the current situation]
The dramatic events in Turkey, Brazil and Egypt are a graphic indication that we have now entered an entirely new situation on a world scale. We need to examine the fundamental processes in order to combat any tendency to routinism.
Since the Second World War there have been seven recessions, but this is the most serious recession in history. The rate of recovery is far slower than any slump in the past hundred years. Five years after the beginning of the crisis, the world economy remains mired in recession and stagnation.
The recovery in the USA is extremely sluggish and fragile. Europe is in a deep recession. The former powerhouse of its growth, Germany, is on the verge of recession. The weaker economies of southern Europe are in a deep slump. Meanwhile, the slowdown of the Chinese economy is causing alarm, and the so-called BRICS economies are also entering into crisis.
North America, Europe and Japan account for 90% of household wealth. If these countries are not consuming, China cannot produce. And if China is not producing (at least to the same extent), countries like Brazil, Argentina and Australia cannot sell their raw materials.
Thus, globalization manifests itself as a global crisis of capitalism. The huge accumulation of debt acts as a colossal drag on the economy, preventing any meaningful recovery. Everywhere, in cutting living standards, they are cutting demand and deepening the crisis.
The attempts of the US Federal Reserve to keep interest rates low and pump liquidity into the economy (“quantitative easing”) have proved useless for increasing production. The capitalists borrow money at low rates and use it to speculate on the stock markets. They either use it to take over other companies, or to buy shares in their own companies in order to drive the price of shares up. This explains the boom on the stock exchange at a time when the US economy is experiencing only sluggish growth.
Quantitative easing was a colossal gamble. They calculated that there cannot be inflation while the markets are flat. So they pumped more money into the economy, hoping to get a reactivation. This was like a drug addict pumping drugs into his system in order to get a “high”. But this was a policy subject to the law of diminishing returns. The effectiveness is, and therefore ever bigger quantities are needed to produce the same results.
The monetarists pointed out (correctly) that sooner or later, “quantitative easing” must end in an explosion of inflation. This in turn will lead to a sharp increase in interest rates, like a man slamming on the brakes of a car, and a new and even deeper slump. But as soon as the Fed announced its intention to end quantitative easing, there were sharp falls on the stock markets all over the world. That showed both the nervousness of the bourgeois and the extremely fragile nature of the “recovery”.
There is no real precedent to the present crisis in its extent and global character. It is true that there is no final crisis of capitalism. But the bare assertion that capitalism can recover from crises tells us nothing about the specific phase through which capitalism is passing.
The question that must be answered is: how long will it last? By what means will a solution be found? And at what cost? Some bourgeois economists are predicting that it will take 20 years to solve the crisis of the euro. Two decades of falling living standards and austerity means an explosion of the class struggle everywhere. This is what the ruling class fears.
Not only can the ruling class not permit new reforms; it cannot permit the existence of those gains made in the past. That is a finished recipe for class struggle. We therefore face a future of years, probably decades, of falling living standards. This will have a profound effect on consciousness.
From Turkey to Brazil
The boom in capitalism served to mask the underlying contradictions in society, but not to remove them. The gains of economic prosperity were not evenly distributed. According to the UN, the richest 2% own more than half the world’s wealth, while the poorest half of the world’s population own barely 1% of global wealth.
An unbridgeable gulf has opened up between rich and poor everywhere. In the words of Marx: “Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole, i.e., on the side of the class that produces its own product in the form of capital.” (Capital, vol.1, 25:4)
This is the economic background to the social explosions in Turkey and Brazil, which represent a sudden change in the situation. Both countries were held up as models of economic growth and political and social stability. Now everything has turned into its opposite.
The impasse of capitalism finds its expression in sudden leaps of consciousness in the masses. Sudden and sharp changes are implicit in the situation and we must be prepared for them. Everywhere there is a simmering anger beneath the surface, which expresses itself as mass outbursts in Tunisia, Egypt, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Rumania, Brazil, and beyond. Russia, China and Saudi Arabia are all faced with similar developments.
What we see is the beginning of the world revolution. Events in one country have a big effect on consciousness in other countries. Modern methods of communication enable events to be replicated with lightning speed. The Revolution is leapfrogging from one country to another as if the old frontiers had no significance.
These explosions occurred on apparently unrelated issues of an accidental character: a plan to build a shopping mall in a park in Istanbul, and an increase in bus fares in Sao Paulo. But in reality, they are reflections of the same phenomenon: necessity expresses itself through accident. This is a reflection of contradictions that have been accumulating for decades beneath the surface. Once the process reaches a critical point, any small incident can set the masses in motion.
The capitalist commentators were taken completely by surprise by the events in Turkey. But within a matter of days similar mass protests swept across Brazil, the economic giant of Latin America, bringing hundreds of thousands onto the streets. These were the biggest demonstrations for over 20 years. They exposed the contradictions that have been building up in the form of poor healthcare, poor education and rampant corruption.
What has so far saved the bourgeoisie is the lack of adequate organization and leadership. This is most clearly shown in the case of Egypt.
The Second Egyptian Revolution
Periods of sharp class struggle will alternate with periods of tiredness, apathy, lulls, and even reaction. But these will merely be the prelude to new and even more explosive developments. This is shown clearly by the Egyptian Revolution.
In Egypt, after months of disappointment and tiredness, 17 million took to the streets in an unprecedented popular uprising. With no party, no organization or leadership, they succeeded in just a few days in overthrowing the hated Morsi government.
The western media tried to characterise this as a coup. But a coup is by definition a movement of a small minority that conspires to seize power behind the backs of the people. Here the revolutionary people were on the streets and were the real motor force behind events.
In every genuine revolution it is the elemental movement of the masses that provides the motor force. However, unlike the anarchists, Marxists do not worship spontaneity, which has its strong points but also its weaknesses. We must understand the limitations of spontaneity.
In Egypt the masses could have taken power at the end of June. In fact, they had power in their hands, but they were not aware of it. This situation bears some resemblance to February 1917 in Russia. Lenin pointed out that the only reason the workers did not take power then had nothing to do with objective conditions, but was due to the subjective factor:
“Why don't they take power? Steklov says: for this reason and that. This is nonsense. The fact is that the proletariat is not organised and class conscious enough. This must be admitted: material strength is in the hands of the proletariat but the bourgeoisie turned out to be prepared and class conscious. This is a monstrous fact, and it should be frankly and openly admitted and the people should be told that they did not take power because they were unorganised and not conscious enough.” (Lenin, Works, vol. 36, page 437, our emphasis)
The Egyptian workers and youth are learning fast in the school of Revolution. That is why the June uprising was far broader, deeper, faster and more conscious than the First Revolution that occurred two and a half years ago. But they still lack the necessary experience and revolutionary theory that would enable the Revolution to achieve a rapid and relatively painless victory.
The situation is one of deadlock in which neither side can claim total victory. This is what enables the army to raise itself above society and present itself as the supreme arbiter of the Nation, although in reality the real power was in the streets. The confidence expressed by some people in the role of the army shows extreme naivety. Bonapartism represents a serious danger to the Egyptian Revolution. This naivety will be burned out of the consciousness of the masses by the harsh school of life.
The open counterrevolutionaries of the Muslim Brotherhood have been driven from power but because of the limits of its purely spontaneous (i.e. unorganised) nature, the Revolution has failed to take power. On the one hand the Islamist reactionaries are organising a counterrevolutionary rebellion that threatens to plunge the country into civil war. On the other hand, the bourgeois elements, generals and imperialists are manoeuvring to rob the masses of the victory that was won with their blood.
The Revolution was strong enough to achieve the immediate objective: the overthrow of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. But it was not strong enough to prevent the fruits of its victory being stolen by the generals and the bourgeoisie. It will have to pass through another hard school in order to raise itself to the level that is necessary to change the course of history.
Revolution enables people to learn fast. If two years ago there had existed in Egypt the equivalent of the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky, even with just the 8,000 members that it had in February 1917, the whole situation would be entirely different. But such a party did not exist. It will have to be built in the heat of events.
The strategists of Capital were seriously alarmed by these developments. Leaving aside all non-essential and accidental elements, these movements were inspired and driven by the same things. What we have here is an international phenomenon: a tendency towards a world revolutionary movement. We see similar developments beginning in Europe.
The crisis of the euro
The crisis in Europe most dramatically expresses the sickness of world capitalism. The idea was to make the working class pay for the crisis by imposing austerity policies. But the willingness of the masses to accept further reductions in living standards has definite limits, and these are being reached. In Portugal the constant pressure on living standards has provoked rising social and political tensions, expressed in a general strike and mass demonstrations that plunged the government into crisis.
The euro is not the cause of the crisis, but all the attempts to save the euro have forced them to adopt the line of savage austerity (“internal devaluation”) that is pushing them all deeper and deeper into recession. As a result, unemployment increases, the economy sickens, tax returns fail, and deficits increase inexorably.
There is a growing split between Germany and the weaker countries of the south of Europe, and also between Germany and France, which, because of its weakness, is drawn closer to the South. Germany wishes to push all the burden of the crisis onto the shoulders of the weaker members of the eurozone, which imposes severe strains on its unity. It is not impossible that these strains will lead eventually to the breakup, not just of the eurozone but of the EU itself.
This prospect horrifies the bourgeoisie, not just on this side of the Atlantic but also in the USA. If the EU breaks up it would open the door to currency wars, competitive devaluations and trade wars that would set the scene for a deep slump with catastrophic effects on a world scale.
Many economists are now talking openly of the prospect of the breakup of the EU. For fear of the alternative, they may succeed, against all the odds, in holding something together, but even if they do, not much will be left of the original project.
The class struggle is intensifying. Revolutionary explosions are on the order of the day in Europe. The revolutionary potential in Europe is clearest in countries like Greece, Spain and Italy. But France is not far behind, and the riots in Britain were a warning that such events are possible in Britain in the next period.
The bourgeoisie is faced with a serious problem: they must take back all the concessions they made over the past fifty years. But the class balance of forces is very unfavourable for them.
In countries like Greece one can say that the revolution has already entered its first phase. The process naturally is uneven, developing with greater speed and intensity in some countries, especially in the South of Europe, and at a slower pace in those countries that have accumulated a layer of fat in the last period. But everywhere the process is moving in the same direction.
In Greece there is a movement in the direction of revolution. The workers and youth have shown tremendous determination and will to struggle, but they have not got a worked out programme to change society. That is what they want but they do not know how to express it, that is all. With a strong Marxist current Greece would be on the eve of insurrection. But our small forces are not strong enough to provide the necessary leadership.
There has been a temporary lull because the workers have gone on one 24-hour general strike after another and achieved nothing. The mood remains revolutionary. The reformist trade union and Stalinist leaders are holding the class back. But the struggle over the state broadcasting company (ERT) shows that the movement can explode again at any time. Nothing has been resolved.
The Samaras government is weak and fractious. Samaras is purely empirical. He staggers from one crisis to the next with no clear idea where he is going. The government is too weak to do what has to be done. It is split and cannot last. Sooner or later the bourgeoisie will have to pass the poisoned chalice to Tsipras and SYRIZA.
Doubtless a section of the ruling class would like to move towards reaction. But they know that this would mean civil war, which they would not be sure of winning. So they will send the workers to the school of reformism to learn a lesson. It will be a very painful one. A SYRIZA government would be faced with a clear alternative: either break with the bourgeoisie and defend the interests of the working class, or capitulate to the pressures from the bourgeoisie and carry out the policies dictated by the Troika. There is no third way.
Tsipras became very popular because he seemed to stand for radical policies, a break with the Memorandum, etc. But as he gets close to power, he has moderated his language. He is careful not to promise too much in order not to frighten the bourgeoisie and to dampen expectations of the masses.
However, the expectations will be very great. If a Left coalition government led by SYRIZA fails to take the necessary action against big business, it will cause a wave of bitter disillusionment, preparing the way for an even more right-wing coalition, possibly between the New Democracy and Golden Dawn (Khrysi Argi).
Under these conditions the Golden Dawn would grow on the right, and the KKE would grow on the left. For a whole period, one unstable government will follow another. Left coalitions will give way to right-wing coalitions. But no combination of parliamentary forces can solve the crisis.
The Greek ruling class will proceed carefully, testing the ground through the gradual introduction of reactionary laws and measures to restrict democratic rights. It will attempt to move towards parliamentary Bonapartism before imposing an open dictatorship.
But long before reaction can succeed, there will be a whole series of social explosions, in which the question of power will be posed. Under such conditions, the revolutionary tendency can build its forces rapidly. The Greek section has an enormous responsibility on its shoulders, and the Greek question must be placed high on the agenda of the whole International.
There is a contradiction between the level of consciousness of the movement and the tasks posed by history. It can only be resolved by the experience of the masses.
Consciousness always tends to lag behind events. But consciousness can catch up with a bang. That is the real meaning of a revolution. The essence of a revolution is lightning changes in the mood of the masses. Explosions can occur suddenly, without warning, when least expected. That was the meaning of the events in Turkey and Brazil.
As the crisis deepens, the mood of the masses is changing. Everywhere there is a backlash against the policies of austerity. This is grasped even by a section of the bourgeoisie. There are definite limits to what people can stand. These limits are being reached.
In the period of the boom, despite overwork and increased exploitation, many workers could find a way out through individual solutions, like overtime. Now that avenue is blocked. Only through struggle will it be possible to defend the existing conditions, let alone secure better ones. Now the psychology of the workers is changing fundamentally. There is a mood of anger and bitterness.
One layer after another is being drawn into struggle. The traditional proletariat has been joined by layers that in the past would have considered themselves as middle class: teachers, civil servants, doctors, nurses, etc.
However, after decades of relative class peace, the workers need a preliminary period to stretch their muscles, like an athlete whose muscles have become stiff. The school of mass strikes and demonstrations are a preparation for more serious things. In general, the working class can only learn from experience.
The onset of the crisis initially produced shock among the workers who did not expect it. They were traumatised and unable to react in many cases. But that is now changing. In one country after another the workers and youth are taking the road of struggle and through the experience of struggle, the class begins to feel itself as a class.
Over a period, all the old reformist illusions will be burned out of the consciousness of the working class, which will become hardened in struggle. Sooner or later, this must have an effect inside the mass workers’ organizations.
The mass organizations
The mass organizations are lagging far behind events. In the 1930s (and also in the 1970s), mass centrist tendencies emerged fairly rapidly in the workers’ parties. We are not yet in that stage. On the contrary, the mood of fury that exists in the masses scarcely finds any reflection in the mass organizations.
It is a paradox that the very organizations that were created by the working class to change society have become monstrous barriers in the path of the working class. Decades of capitalist boom have carried the process of degeneration of all these organizations to an extreme, both in the political parties (Social Democracy and the former “Communist” parties) and the unions.
The dialectic of history has taken cruel revenge on the reformists and Stalinists. Precisely at a moment when the capitalist system is collapsing, the reformist leaders embrace the “market” even closer than before. They are destined to sink with it. This is a finished recipe for crises in all these organizations in the future.
In France, Hollande’s electoral support collapsed in only a few months to the lowest levels since 1958. In Greece, the Pasok has been almost wiped out. In Italy, the old Communist Party (the PCI) liquidated itself and the PRC is rapidly disintegrating, punished by the workers for its betrayals in the Prodi coalition government. In Spain, the PSOE does not gain despite the unpopularity of the PP government.
In Britain, the Labour leaders are terrified of the prospect of coming to power. They do not fight for a majority. They make no promises of reforms, etc., because they fear that this will encourage the workers and unions to make more demands. When they make speeches, they address their remarks, not to the workers but to the bosses and bankers, seeking their approval. They have passed from reforms to counter-reforms.
In most countries there has been a collapse of the Left. The left reformists are hopeless empiricists, just like the right wing. It is just two different kinds of empiricism. They cling to the outmoded recipes of Keynesianism. None of them speak of socialism.
The ex-Stalinists have been punished by history for their past crimes. They have moved sharply to the right, especially after the collapse of the USSR and are now not even the shadow of their former selves. They are deeply sceptical about socialism and have no faith whatsoever in the working class.
The old Stalinists were at least a caricature of the genuine article. Now they are only a pale imitation of reformism. Consequently, at a time when capitalism is in a deep crisis, when the ideas of Communism ought to get a big audience, they have proved impotent to reach the most radicalised layers of the workers and youth. In some countries they have disappeared altogether.
Trotsky said that betrayal is implicit in reformism. We do not speak here necessarily of a conscious betrayal but the fact that if one accepts capitalism, one must also accept the laws of capitalism. Under these conditions a very critical mood will develop rapidly. At a certain point we will see a ferment of discussion in the rank and file and the crystallization of a left wing.
The reformists yearn for a return to “normality”, but that is a utopian dream. To manage capitalism in its epoch of decay is to manage a general reduction of living standards. These leaders reflect the past, not the present or the future. There is no longer any unquestioning support among workers for the Socialist and ex-Communist leaders. On the contrary, there is a critical attitude and even open scepticism towards them.
That does not mean, as the sects imagine, that these parties will simply disappear. The reformists have deep roots in the class and can recover from even what seem to be impossible situations. When the masses look for an alternative, they do not look at the sects, but will test and re-test the well-known traditional parties and leaders, before they finally discard them and look for a new political point of reference.
The workers will test one party and leader after another in a desperate attempt to find a way out of the crisis. They discard one after another. The pendulum swings to the left and the right. In contrast to the 1930s and 1970s, the Left in the Social Democracy is weak. But as the crisis intensifies, there will be a differentiation inside the mass organizations.
The rapid rise of SYRIZA in Greece and the advances of Mélenchon and the Front de Gauche in France is an indication of processes that will be repeated on an even bigger scale in the next period. In both cases, however, the forces for new left-wing movements did not drop from the clouds, but emerged from splits in the existing mass organizations (the KKE in Greece and the Socialist Party in France).
There will be a whole series of crises in both the SPs and CPs in the future, which will create very favourable conditions for the growth of mass Marxist tendencies.
The trade unions
Trotsky said that the trade union leaders are the most conservative force in society. That is truer than ever. Yet the workers have nowhere else to go. The mass movement can develop spontaneously, from below, without leadership from the top. The workers will improvise all kinds of rank-and-file ad hoc committees and campaigns.
The anarchists and sects will see these movements as an alternative to the unions. But the working class cannot dispense with the trade unions, which will be drawn in later. Ad hoc organisations have a role to play, but there is no substitute for patient revolutionary work to transform the unions.
Most of the union leaders are living in the past and are completely unprepared for the period into which we have entered. At the very time when the capitalist system is crumbling everywhere, they cling desperately to the “market” and are trying to save it at all costs – at the cost of the workers.
But the mass organizations do not exist in a vacuum. That is especially true of the unions. There will be a process of selection, in which the hopeless, demoralised elements will be cast aside and replaced with younger, more militant people who are prepared to risk their jobs for the sake of fighting the bosses and standing up for workers’ rights.
Under pressure of the rank and file, the union leaders will either put themselves at the head of the struggle or be pushed aside and be replaced by people who are more in contact with the membership. The unions will be transformed over and over again in the course of struggle.
It would be wrong to imagine that reformism is completely discredited even now. The masses would like to see reforms. But under present conditions even the smallest reforms will have to be fought for. Our criticism of the reformists is not that they stand for reforms but that they do not fight for reforms and accept counter-reforms– that they surrender to the pressures of big business.
Towards the European Revolution
Three years ago the Financial Times spoke of “difficult and dangerous times”. These words have turned out to be only too true. The ruling class is terrified of the social and political effects of the crisis and the measures it will be forced to take. What has saved the situation so far has been the reformist Labour leaders who have shown themselves to be the most loyal and reliable servants of Capital.
The classes are lining up for a decisive showdown. Over the next five or ten years we will see the most serious confrontation since the 1930s There are many parallels between the present situation and the 1930s. But there are also important differences.
The main difference is a radical change in the class balance of forces. The working class is now a decisive majority in all the advanced capitalist countries and plays the decisive role in countries like Turkey, Brazil, Egypt and Indonesia. Before the Second World War, the European bourgeoisie had big social reserves in the shape of the peasantry. That partly explains why they could move rapidly in the direction of fascism in Italy, Germany and Spain.
Now the changed balance of class forces rules out a rapid denouement. The present situation can last for years with ebbs and flows. The movement will take place in a series of waves, as in Spain, where the Revolution, really began in 1930, with a wave of strikes and demonstrations even before the fall of the Monarchy in 1931.
In a revolutionary period like this, all such lulls and defeats are merely the prelude to new explosions, which will put all past movements in the shade. The Spanish Revolution passed through a whole series of stages, before it was finally defeated in the May Days of 1937 in Barcelona.
In these seven years there were periods of great revolutionary advances, such as in 1931 with the declaration of the Republic, but also periods of despair and disillusionment. There were terrible defeats like the defeat of the Asturian Commune in 1934, and even black reaction, as in the Bienio Negro (Two Black years) of 1933-5.
Today in Europe a similar process is taking place everywhere at a slower or faster pace and at a greater or lesser intensity. Greece is the weakest link in the chain of European capitalism, but there are many weak links. The process in Greece has gone further than anywhere else, but it only shows in a particularly sharp form what will happen in other European countries.
May 1968 in France was the greatest revolutionary general strike in history. But in some ways it was still a fairly light-headed affair. After decades of prosperity the consciousness of youth was characterised by a certain naivety. Under the far harsher conditions of today, that kind of quasi-anarchist childishness will be burned out of the consciousness of the youth. This generation will be far harder than earlier generations, and the struggles will also be harder and more brutal.
Strategy and tactics
Strategy and tactics are not the same. It is necessary to have a general understanding of the processes, but the concrete and practical application may be different at any given moment, and tactics may even conflict with strategy at certain periods.
We understand that at a certain stage the sharp polarization in society will be reflected in a differentiation within the mass organizations, beginning with the trade unions.
Explosions are inevitable. But without leadership, that will not be enough. The movement to occupy squares in Spain reached very large proportions, but led nowhere and soon fizzled out. The forces of Marxism are too small to determine the outcome of such mass movements. In most countries they are limited to the level of propaganda. But we must be prepared.
We must develop intelligent and appropriate transitional demands at every stage. But this is insufficient in present conditions. While actively intervening in every struggle (strikes, general strikes, mass demonstrations, etc.) we must patiently explain that only a radical break with capitalism can solve the problem.
A nationalised planned economy could solve unemployment by introducing immediately a six hour, four day week without loss of pay. In our propaganda we must emphasize the colossal loss of production through millions of unemployed, the effect on the youth, women, etc.
At the same time we must explain the tremendous productive potential of the new technologies: information, computers, “just in time” production, robots, etc. If this were put to work in a rational way, it would mean that people would work fewer hours, not more, for the satisfaction of human needs.
We must seek out the most revolutionary elements and educate them in the ideas of Marxism. In a revolutionary situation a small group with correct ideas can grow rapidly - Quality can become quantity and quantity can become quality. The task is therefore to build the forces of Marxism with a sense of urgency at this stage are not to be found in the reformist mass organizations, in the main. At this stage it is, especially the youth are becoming radicalised and who are open to revolutionary ideas.
The contradiction between the level of consciousness of the masses and the tasks posed by history can only be solved by the experience of great and explosive events. But these are implicit in the situation. There will be sharp turns and sudden changes, especially in consciousness.
In the past, revolutionary ideas would be received with scepticism. Now people are looking for these ideas. In Greece, 63 percent of the people say they want a fundamental change in society, while 23 percent want a revolution. These are extraordinary figures: in effect, 86 percent look to revolution for their salvation.
We must be imbued with the idea of a fundamental change in the situation, and the need for a sense of urgency in building a revolutionary organization. All routinism must be combatted. Above all, we must pay special attention to theory and political education, without which we are nothing.
There are big possibilities. Above all, there are fresh layers of youth coming into activity who are looking for the ideas of Marxism, not tomorrow or the day after, but right now. We must find them, enter into a dialogue with them and win them to the ideas of Marxism.
London, 11 July 2013