Sunday, 13 December 2009



Just before this summit, new alarming facts were released:

  • Carbon dioxide levels have reached 385.2 ppm – the highest level for 650,000 years, according to WMO (World Meteorological Organistion).
  • Despite the Kyoto deal in 1997, carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 41% compared to 1990 levels. Last year, despite the economic crisis, they increased by another 2%, more than the annual average of the 1990s, according to NatureGeoscience.

These developments are in line with the worst predictions of the UN Climate Panel – predicting a temperature increase of 6 degrees within a century. Already today, 300,000 deaths every year are related to the direct or indirect effects of climate change. Scientists argue there are only six years left (until 2015) to change today's destructive energy consumption and production patterns before "catastrophic" effects become unavoidable. This shows: Our struggle is a race against time.

The climate crisis is caused by the capitalist system and its multinational companies. The political leaders in Kyoto and now in Copenhagen have no solutions. Their only aim as governing parties and states is to escape being branded as "climate bad guys" while passing the bill to someone else! Through false capitalist solutions like caps and trading with emission rights etc, they want to continue to rely on fossil fuels. This is because they are in the pocket of big business, not least the oil and energy industries. Numbers 1 and 2 on Fortune's 500 biggest companies are oil giants, Exxon and Chevron. Numbers 4 and 5 are General Electric and Wal-Mart. Without challenging the power of these multinationals – including all their politicians – the climate crisis can not be solved.

What is needed is a global and democratic climate movement, involving workers, youth, poor farmers and all who are hit by the effects of global warming. No trust can be placed in governments or companies.

Democratic socialism, organised on a global scale, is the only alternative to the capitalist system. Instead of resources being wasted on profits, bonuses, the military, destroying the entire globe, we need democratic planning according to the needs of people and the environment.

The CWI stands for:

  • A target to reduce emissions by at least 50% by 2020, with the aim of at least a 90% reduction by 2050.
  • Oppose the imposition of increased taxes and charges (such as carbon taxes) on the backs of working class people. Make the real polluters pay – big business!
  • Massive public investment to replace fossil and nuclear fuels with renewable energy.
  • A wholesale shift to sustainable transport, housing, agriculture, forestry and industry, for global planning under democratic workers' control.
  • A transformation of industries such as car production and coal, defending all jobs and wages to use the technology and knowledge of the workforce to produce socially useful and environmentally friendly goods
  • Nationalisation of the 500 multinationals which dominate the world today, economically and politically
  • Mobilise and unite the daily struggle for jobs, welfare and climate – for an international joint struggle of trade unions, environmental groups and left organisations including the NPA in France, Die LINKE in Germany, and Syriza in Greece with the aim of building socialist and environmentally conscious mass parties.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009



The coming to power of Hugo Chávez in 1998 represented an important change in the world situation. This was the first government to come to power which did not embrace the ruthless ideas of neo-liberalism which had dominated every government and ruling elite throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The coming to power of Chávez thus represented a significant positive development. The Chávez regime enacted a series of popular reforms, especially in health and education, which the CWI and workers in Venezuela and internationally enthusiastically supported.

The radical populist policies enacted by Chávez rapidly aroused the wrath of US imperialism and the Venezuelan ruling class which tried to overthrow it. The struggle in Venezuela has passed through different phases and twists and turns in the situation. Now it has entered a new and critical phase. Initially, Chávez spoke only of a 'Bolivarian revolution'. A series of important reform programmes were initiated. The "Misiones" in health (Barrio Adentro) and education (Mision Robinson) were especially popular. One million were lifted out of illiteracy and millions were given access to a doctor for the first time. Three million were given access to primary and secondary school education. Over two million hectares of land have been distributed to peasant co-operatives since Chávez came to power in 1998. These reforms and other aspects of his programme rapidly brought his regime into open conflict with the oligarchs who had previously been in power and provoked the wrath of US imperialism.

The attempted coup in 2002 and then the bosses "lock-out" in 2002/3 were followed by a series of acts of sabotage, provoking shortages of commodities and electoral challenges. All these attempts at counter revolution were defeated. They were blocked by a massive, independent spontaneous movement of the masses from below. The defeat of these attempts at counter revolution represented important victories.

In 2005, spurred on by these events and the pressure from the mass of the poor and workers, Chávez went further and for the first time declared that the objectives of the Bolivarian revolution were now to build "Socialism in the 21st century". This, for the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall, once again put the issue of socialism back on the political agenda and represented a positive development.

However, it is one thing to speak of socialism it is another to understand what programme and methods are necessary to achieve it. Marxists also have a responsibility to draw out and discuss weaknesses, deficiencies and dangers which are present in any movement and which can act as a barrier to defeating capitalism. It is necessary to assist workers and socialists in finding the right road to take the struggle forward and carry through the socialist revolution. Genuine socialism can then be built through the establishment of a real system of workers democracy and by drawing on the international and historical experiences of the workers' movement. Marxists try to assist socialists in Venezuela to draw on the international experience of workers in other struggles as a means of advancing the struggle for a socialist revolution. We also welcome comment and criticism from workers in Venezuela about the struggles of workers in other countries.

The CWI has welcomed the positive steps forward taken in Venezuela. But we have also warned of the dangers facing the movement from counter revolution and reaction due to deficiencies in programme, method and the organisation of the working class. Unlike some on the left, we have avoided falling into the traps of either opportunism - of merely acting as cheerleaders and advisers of Chávez - or alternatively, of attacking Chávez in a personal and sectarian manner.

The threat of counter revolution remains because capitalism, unfortunately, has not been defeated and replaced by a democratic socialist plan of production based upon the establishment of a system of workers' and peasants' democracy. Now, a new and critical phase has opened up in Venezuela which poses new dangers for the struggle for socialism.

The failure to defeat capitalism is now resulting in a series of attacks on the reform programmes and the working class. The new rich elite which has ridden on the backs of the movement and an ever-expanding bureaucratic apparatus, riddled with corruption, is increasingly coming into conflict with the working class and the struggle to take the revolution forward. Using "socialist rhetoric" the bureaucracy and new elite which is emerging are increasingly adopting repressive measures against the working class and those who come into conflict with or criticise the regime.

The CWI has commented on many occasions that one of the most serious weaknesses of the situation in Venezuela is the lack of conscious, independent organisation of the working class, which puts itself at the head of the struggle for a socialist revolution. The Bolivarian movement has been run in a top-down manner, without a conscious check or control by the working class. As a result, bureaucratic, administrative and now, unfortunately, increasingly repressive methods have been used against the working class and those who question or challenge the regime from the left.

These two elements - the predominance of capitalism and bureaucratic repressive methods - have been strengthened during the recent period. The revolutionary process which developed, especially following the attempted coup and lock-out in 2002/3 has stalled at this conjuncture. If a revolutionary process does not advance and go forward ultimately it can begin to corrode and even rot.

Unfortunately, this threat is beginning to develop in Venezuela. As a result support for Chávez is being seriously undermined and eroded. Even the idea of socialism is beginning to be discredited amongst a layer because of a failure to take the revolution forward. There is a qualitative change underway which raises the spectre of counter revolution. A counter-revolution, however, which is, in part, being driven from within the Chavista movement itself.

The 'Boli-bourgeois'

This involves sections of the old elite which have gone over to Chávez, who are now enriching themselves and making massive profits from the whole process. To this must be added the 'new rich' that has emerged. Today the term 'Boli-burguesia' (Boli-bourgeois) is common place in modern Venezuela. There is a strong element of the process which unfolded in South Africa where a section of the ANC enriched itself following the fall of the apartheid regime. They became a new upper-middle class and even a section of the capitalist class. This process is well advanced, in the name of "socialism", in Venezuela today. There is even an organisation made up of "Socialist companies" - companies that declare themselves socialist but operate as capitalist enterprises as well as a nationally organized group called the "Middle Class Socialists".

This layer includes people like Ricardo Fernandez Barruesco, who started out in the food industry but has now diversified and owns the Banco Canarias, Bolivar Banco and many others. There are also members of the new ruling elite like Wilmer Ruperti. A decade ago, he was simply another "businessman". Today, he is a shipping tycoon and a billionaire. In fact he is Venezuela's richest man. He made his fortune during the bosses' "lock-out" using his tankers to break the "strike" and ship oil for the government. Since then, he has been richly rewarded, with lucrative contracts with the state oil company, PVDSA. Although this layer has tried to reconcile itself to Chávez, there clearly remains another section of the old elite and other right-wing forces which remain determined to defeat him.

The growth of the 'Boli-burguesia' is a feature which is likely to continue in the coming period. Chávez, faced with a declining economy with industrial production set to fall by 10.25% in the third quarter of this year, has stepped up his appeal for the private sector to help boost the flagging economy. Identifying fifty-four issues that need to be confronted to boost the economy he appealed to the private banks - some of the richest in Latin America - to help stimulate the economy by increasing credit to the commercial sectors. (Ultimas Noticias 22/9/09).

While some of the "nationalisations" carried out by the government have received a lot of international publicity, most of them have, in fact, ended up as joint ventures called "empresas mixtas" (mixed enterprises). The whole thrust of the Chávez governments' economic policy has been to increase state intervention but leave in place a mixed capitalist economy – using the term "socialism".

Impact of the crisis

At the beginning of the world economic crisis, Chávez denied that Venezuela would be affected by it.

However, this argument is now unsustainable as the effects of falling oil prices have begun to hit the economy. Incredibly, the national state-owned oil company increased its level of debt by a staggering 146% during 2008! PDVSA is estimated to owe an enormous US$12 billion to contractors. This is now having a direct impact on the ability of the government to maintain its initially popular reforms packages.

Most of the reform and social programmes were financed by PDVSA. The increased debt of PDVSA is now compelling the government to cut back on its social reform programme. Social programme expenditure was cut by 58% in 2008, compared with 2007. Further cuts are also planned in state expenditure for 2009. When inflation, running at 30% - the highest in Latin America - is taken into account, economists estimate that the real value of the budget announced for 2009 will be 30% lower than in 2007!

Bureaucratic mismanagement and inefficiency

To these cuts must also be added the devastating consequences of the bureaucratic methods, corruption and inefficiency which in recent years has seriously undermined even the most popular "Misiones" - reform programmes. These include the most popular programmes, such as Barrio Adentro (Health) and Mision Robinson (the campaign to eradicate illiteracy) and the state run super market - Mercal - and the price controls which the government introduced on basic goods.

Health clinics run by Barrio Adentro, opened to widespread acclaim in the 'barrios', are now more often than not closed and fail to operate. Complaints by Cuban doctors sent back to Havana about the crisis which exists in the health sector prompted Fidel Castro to write to Chávez, warning him that the health system was not functioning. Chávez pronounced that he had received a letter from Castro protesting about problems in Barrio Adentro and that something must be done. It is as though Chávez himself had nothing to do with the problem. Yet why was a letter from Castro necessary to alert the Venezuelan government of a crisis in its own health sector!

The popular health reforms have, like many of the other reform programmes become clogged up in a mesh of bureaucracy and corruption and lack of over all planning even in one sector. The introduction of unified planning in the health sector, run through a system of democratic workers' control and management, could have been an example of what is needed in the rest of the economy.

Unfortunately, the health sector is plunging into a deeper and deeper crisis. The introduction of new health clinics, which gave the poorest sections of the population access to a doctor, was accompanied by stagnation and cutbacks in the existing state health sector. Outside Barrio Adentro clinics, a visit to the local doctor brings with it a bill for a consultation! The crisis in the health sector is now reaching explosive proportions.

Basic facilities like the hospital kitchens and laundries at one of Caracas's largest hospitals, El Agodonal, have been closed or not working properly for years and are causing infections and contamination. A walk around this hospital, once visited by Che Guevara, and you see repair projects standing idle as no progress has been made for more than a year. Between 2007 and 2009, the government authorised more than 2 billion Bolivars to be spent on hospital repairs and infrastructure. Yet, not a single project is more than 30% completed after two years. This has a direct effect on the functioning of hospitals. El Agondonal, is only functioning at 30% of operational capacity.

Despite the number of Cuban doctors sent to the country there is still a 30% deficit of doctors nationally.

The absence of a system of genuine democratic workers' control and management is resulting in the cancer of corruption and bureaucracy eating away and undermining the effectiveness of the reform programmes. Under Chávez, there has been an explosive growth in the state bureaucracy. Recent government re-organisation means that Chávez has six vice-presidents! The state now employs over 2 million people out of a labour force of over 12 million. The number of state administrators has greatly expanded. The number of administrators working for the state oil company PDVSA has increased by 266% since 2002. The nationalised electricity company employs approximately 42,000 workers, yet they are split up into over 200 separate management departments!

Infrastructure projects which the government initiated frequently remain incomplete – often as a result of bureaucratic mismanagement and corruption. In the centre of Caracas, a new bus lane, built aside from the crowded roads supposedly to speed busses through the city stands incomplete and overrun with cars and motor bikes, victim to corruption and the fact that the Russian company contracted to build it took the money and ran. To this sorry list must be added the cuts in power and water supplies which are currently taking place. This is partly due to lack of investment in infrastructure and partly due to bureaucratic mismanagement and also climatic changes and the effect of El Nino.

This is a country with abundant potential capacity to develop more than adequate hydro-electric power supplies, due to its vast rivers and access to water. Chávez claims these cuts are the consequence of changing weather patterns. In reality, the cuts in power and water are a monument to the lack of serious investment in infrastructure in the decade since Chávez came to power and for decades prior to him coming to power. Chávez's solution - shower for only three minutes. One minute to wash down, another to soap, and a third minute to rinse off! This assumes that you can get access to a shower with a functioning water supply.

Even the limited agrarian reform programme has been affected by the growth of bureaucracy and also lack of investment in machines at a price the land workers and peasants afford. Since 1999, the state has taken over approximately 2.5 million hectares of land. In 1999, the quantity of meat produced each month produced was 17.4 kilos per person per month. This was enough to satisfy almost all of the domestic market. Production in 2009 is expected to fall in 2009 to a mere 7.8 kilos per month – approximately 38% of local demand. This has compelled the state to import more than 50% of meat consumed in Venezuela.

The working class would undoubtedly be prepared to accept sacrifices and even a reduction in living standards for a temporary period of time if necessary under certain conditions. An example is the situation following the Russian revolution in 1917, when the revolution was isolated and threatened, as twenty-one armies of imperialism intervened to try and crush the revolution. However, for the working class to accept such hardship it must be convinced that it is necessary to defend the socialist revolution and feel that the leaders and activists are also prepared to make such sacrifices. When there are growing inequalities, corruption, and the enrichment of a section of the population, workers will not accept attacks and cuts in living standards. The continuing mass poverty which exists in Caracas, the corruption and absent of a clear way forward is reflected in the level of crime and violence which are amongst the highest in Latin America.

The CWI welcomed the reform programmes when they were introduced as a positive step forward. However, we also warned that unless capitalism was overthrown and a genuine system of workers' and peasants democracy was introduced then they could not be sustained and developed further. Now they are being rolled back under the impact of a deepening economic crisis.

The price controls that Chávez introduced while formally remaining often bear no relation to the actual prices good are sold for on the streets due to shortages, speculation and profiteering. Even the popular Mercal super markets have hiked their prices on many basic food items. The price of rice was increased by 29%, milk by 68% and pasta by 78%. While these state supermarkets still offer much cheaper prices, these increases are directly affecting the poorest sections of the population. Ironically, twenty years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall the shortages, empty shelves, and massive queues make a trip to a Mercal supermarket reminiscent of the former Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. It is not uncommon to have to search four or five shops to even find milk. On a Sunday it is impossible to find. Without the democratic planning of the economy such shortages are inevitable.

In part, these shortages are the product of economic sabotage by sections of the right-wing capitalist companies involved. However, in part they are also a consequence of bureaucracy, bad administration and corruption.

During the Salvador Allende Government in Chile, between 1970 and 1973, shortages of some goods developed as a consequence of sabotage and boycotts by the employers, who were preparing the conditions for the military coup against the government. In Chile, the consequences of these shortages were partly overcome by the democratic workers' and popular organisations which existed at the time. The factory committees, Cordones - and the JAPs which were formed in the shanty towns – organised food distribution on the basis of need and availability. Price speculation was controlled by the JAPs for a temporary period of time as they established basic food prices. Unfortunately, these types of organisations do not exist in Venezuela. Such organisations are necessary to deal with food shortages caused by both the employers and the corruption and inefficiency of the bureaucracy.

The lessons of history - working class must take the lead

The Chávez regime is coming up against the irreconcilable contradiction that arises from attempting to introduce reforms and maintain them but without overthrowing capitalism and introducing a democratic, socialist planned economy. Marxists welcome all reforms which benefit the working class and the poor. However, under capitalism all reforms and concessions that have been conquered will be under threat and can be removed and rolled back. The capitalist system cannot afford and will not allow a permanently ongoing programme of sustained reforms. This was clearly demonstrated during the massive revolutionary movements which convulsed Mexico in 1910-20 and Bolivia in 1952. The failure to defeat landlordism and capitalism in both cases resulted in the massive gains and reforms conquered during both revolutions being rolled back and destroyed. The same process is currently underway in Venezuela.

This contradiction has been further compounded in Venezuela by the methods used from the outset of this "revolution". It has been "led" from the top down, using administrative, bureaucratic methods without the conscious, independent organisation of the working class and masses with checks and controls from below.

These methods have been applied by Chávez from the beginning and reflect his military background and the absence of an organised, independent, conscious movement of the working class and poor. The best of the traditions of the working class in each country need to be incorporated into a bold revolutionary movement with the programme and methods necessary to defeat capitalism. At the same time, it is necessary to overcome any weaknesses and deficiencies which exist. A socialist revolution cannot be successfully carried through by glossing over and ignoring problems and obstacles which exist.

In Venezuela, unlike Chile, Bolivia or Brazil, historically the independent organisation of the working class industrially and politically has been very weak. The first real Venezuelan trade union federation, CTV, was not formed until 1936 and did not really start to function until the 1950s. The Communist Party was not formed until the 1931 – under clandestine conditions and as a Stalinist party from its inception. There is no towering historical workers' leader like Luis Recabarren in Chile, who played a central role in building an independent workers' movement, forming numerous workers' papers, helping to build the trade unions and the Communist Party and who made his way to Russia for the congresses of the Comintern, meeting with Lenin and Trotsky.

This weakness was one of the factors which allowed Chávez and his supporters to assume the leadership of the movement and shape its character since the early 1990s. This point has been illustrated by the Venezuelan historical guerrilla leader of the left, Douglas Bravo, who collaborated with Chávez and others. The British writer, Richard Gott, in his book, "In the shadow of the Liberator" quotes Douglas Bravo, who recounts a meeting with Chávez. They were discussing the question of a general strike and launching an uprising against the old regime. Gott comments: "That is exactly what Chávez did not want. Absolutely not. Chávez did not want civilians to participate as a concrete force". Bravo recounted that a heated argument developed, during which Chávez interjected, pronouncing that, "civilians only get in the way". ('Shadow of the Liberator' page 64/65).

In recent discussions, in Caracas with this author, Bravo went further and illustrated how Chávez did everything possible to avoid the active involvement of the masses. In 1992, Chávez launched a radical populist military rebellion, which was defeated. According to Bravo, during the meeting mentioned by Gott, various student, civil and other organisations including junior army officers like Chávez participated. A specific date in February was agreed for a joint civil and military uprising. Yet to avoid involving the "civil" population Chávez jumped the gun and organised his defeated populist coup a few days earlier.

Unfortunately, Bravo's guerilla experiences and developments nationally and internationally have led him to renounce "Marxism-Leninism" and embrace "left humanism" as an alternative to the Chávez regime.

The top down militaristic approach of the Bolivarian movement has been one of its characteristics since Chávez came to power. The CWI has warned in many articles and documents about the consequences of this danger. For example we warned: "...without democratic check of the working class, those sections of the military who find themselves playing a leading can inevitably develop administrative or bureaucratic tendencies towards commandism. Without a clear understanding of the role of the working class in the revolution and being subjected to its democratic check and control, even the most well intentioned officers develop such tendencies and attempt to impose their will over the working class from above." ('Revolutionary Socialists and the Venezuelan Revolution' – 2004).

Today, the bludgeoning state and party apparatus has begun to use this directly against sections of workers who have moved into struggle to defend their wages and conditions and democratic rights.

Repression and 'Stalinistic' methods

Unfortunately, the Chávez-led state machine on both the industrial front and the political front has begun using Stalinistic forms of repression against the working class and those who criticise the government from the left. Under the pretext of defending the "socialist revolution" critics on the left are denounced as "counter revolutionary" or "agents of imperialism the CIA and MI5". Within the PSUV this is a frequent attack by sections of the bureaucracy against those who raise the question of genuine workers' control, speak against corruption or mention Trotsky. In one instance, a supporter of the CWI was told by a PSUV official that it is only permissible to speak of "Chávez, Fidel, Che, Mao but not of the counter revolutionary Trotsky". This is despite Chávez's previous endorsement of Trotsky in one speech. Ordinary members of the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) who have spoken out against corruption have been simply denounced as "counter revolutionary".

These are quasi-Stalinist methods reminiscent of those used during the Spanish Civil war by the Communist Party leaders. In Spain, the working class rose against the fascist Franco rebellion and took the revolution forward – eventually controlling of fourth-fifths of the country. The old bourgeois state lay in tatters as the working class advanced the revolution. However, the working class did not succeed in constituting and establishing its own state or taking power fully into its own hands. The policy of the Stalinists was to hold back the socialist revolution and to form an agreement with a section of the "progressive" capitalist class. As a consequence of this policy the bourgeois state was reconstituted and the revolution defeated and Franco's fascists seized power. Those opposing the Communist Party's policy were denounced and often executed as "counter-revolutionaries".

This is not the situation today in Venezuela today, but the use of quasi-Stalinist methods are a shadow of some of those used during the Spanish civil war where both capitalism and the bourgeois state remain.

Repressive methods are also now being increasingly used directly against the working class when sections of it have moved into struggle to defend their rights. During this year there has been a significant increase in the amount of workers taking strike action over wages, conditions and in defence of their rights. According to some estimates, there have been more than 400 labor disputes in the twelve months up to August 2009. Those involved have been in the steel, electricity, iron ore, aluminum, transport, health and other sectors. In response to this the state has used repressive methods against them.

When metro workers in Caracas were preparing for strike action to defend a collective contract Chávez threatened to put them under military rule and prohibit their right to strike. Using the laws related to "national security", strategically important areas such as the Metro or hospitals have been designated "zonas de emergencia" where protests and strikes are outlawed.

In the State of Zulia, when petrol workers took strike action demanding they were incorporated into a collective contract, 40 members of the National Guard attacked the workers and arrested the union leaders who was held for seventeen hours.

The world media gave a lot of attention to launching by Chávez of the new "socialist" cell phone, Viagra, which went into production on 1 May. 2008. Little coverage has been given to the appalling conditions and repression handed out to workers at the company where it is produced - Vtelca. With no compulsion to pay the workers, the management has used every repressive method at its disposal against the workforce, which attempted to form a workers council and elected delegates to deal with health and security issues. At one point, the National Guard was used against the work force and against all the labour laws eventually sixty workers were dismissed for "lack of commitment and dedication" to the job.

Sections of the working class have been driven into desperate action to high-light their grievances. Amongst those were the 27 workers of 1,400 who were involved in a dispute with PDVSA. The workers were demanding that they be incorporated into a collective contract rather than be left in a "holding" company with no fixed contract.

These workers who had no confidence in the trade union leaders to fight their cause went on hunger strike. They sewed their lips together with needle and thread to prevent themselves from eating!

At the same time as this movement took place sections of the right-wing led university students took to the streets to protest at the modest reforms included in the government's new education law, some of whom also went on hunger strike. Chávez and the government simply attacked the workers for being manipulated by the right-wing, counter revolutionary university students!

These attacks on working class people who have taken action to defend their rights and the reaction of the government has opened the door to another danger from the right-wing reactionary forces which have attempted to overthrow Chávez. While workers in struggle have been denounced as "counter-revolutionaries" the right-wing has been able to present itself as the "friends" of the working class.

Like a section of the old elite which have tried to reconcile themselves with Chavismo, a section of the old right-wing trade unions have done the same. Recently crucial elections were held for the leadership of FUTPV – the national oil workers federation. The winning slate was headed by Wills Rangel with the backing of the government and the PSUV. Rangel was a former member of a trade union bureau of the social democratic party Acion Democratica, one of the main parties that composed the pre-Chávez political establishment. Rangel only broke with the AD en 2003.

The situation unfolding in Venezuela is that of sections of workers are being denounced as "counter revolutionary" in the name of socialism, while forces of reactionary capitalism are allowed to present themselves as defenders of workers democratic rights and "friends" of the working class.

At a subsidiary of the nationalised SIDOR company hundreds of workers have been excluded from collective contracts and took strike action and faced police repression and arrests. One union leader – who is critical of the government declared: "socialism in the 21st century means workers in handcuffs".

These developments have undermined support for Chávez and the regime heads. Yet inevitably different layers of workers and the poor are drawing different conclusions from this process. While a growing number of workers are moving away from the regime a layer of the most down trodden and oppressed are ardent in their support for it. Sections of these in some areas have been drawn into the newly formed "socialist patrols" which have been established as local community branches of the PSUV.

While there are clearly different layers of the Chavista movement some sections of these "vigilante" community groups have been mobilised on occasions and sent into the Metro and some hospitals to prevent workers assemblies from being organised. Sometimes these are made up of the most oppressed who are fanatical in defence of Chávez who have been whipped up by propaganda presenting these groups of workers as privileged layers who support the counter revolution.

It would be a mistake to exaggerate this tendency but it is emerging in some areas and is a warning of the danger that is developing of splitting the working class and the urban poor through this approach. There has been a rapid acceleration of such methods in the PSUV and by the state machine in general. The PSUV now has a claimed membership of five million. It is divided into three categories - a full membership, sympathisers and the largest - "the reserve" is a reflection of how far the militarisation of the process is developing. The bureaucratic administrative measures are reflected in the PSUV. For example candidates for delegates to the forthcoming congress of the party are chosen by each regional vice-president of the party which led to protests at the exclusion of some dissident party members being excluded from the lists. Some of these methods were initially borrowed from the Cuban regime.

Now, however, it appears much is being imported from the regime in China whose influence has increased as Chávez has increased trade deals and joint ventures for infrastructure. The Chinese are in the process of constructing a series of high-speed rail links in Venezuela. Chávez recently praised the "revolutionary government" in China and sent 100 PSUV top officials for "ideological training" in China. China appears to be increasingly his "model". The government placed official adverts in the press on the anniversary of the Chinese revolution praising the Chinese government of Hu Jintao!

Friends in low places

However, it is not only the Chinese regime which wins the enthusiastic backing of Chávez. One of his regimes international strategy has been to attempt to bind together a block of all and any regime which is in conflict with US imperialism. A genuine revolutionary socialist government in any country may find itself isolated for a period until the revolution develops in other countries. Under such conditions there is nothing wrong with a workers' state forming trade and commercial agreements which may be forced on it. Exploiting splits and divisions between different imperialist powers would under such conditions be entirely legitimate. The Bolsheviks and Lenin and Trotsky were compelled to make such agreements given the isolation of the Russian revolution.

However, establishing formal trade agreement or commercial relations is not the same as lavishly heaping praise on brutal regimes which repress and act against their own people in struggle. Trade agreements do not necessitate praising the likes of Azminhijad of Iran as a great revolutionary leader. The mass movement against this regime was according to Chávez all part of an imperialist plot. At the recent summit of Latin American and African heads of state (ASA), Chávez added a few more friends to his list including Libyan leader Moamar Gadafi.

Neither his regime nor that in Cuba was even prepared to condemn the vicious slaughter of the Tamil people by the Sri Lankan government and vote against it in the UN!

The endorsing of such regimes as the Iranian and the Libyan dictatorships by a government claiming to defend "revolutionary socialism" is indefensible and can only damage the idea of socialism amongst the working class in these countries and internationally.

The future of the Chávez regime is in the balance. The methods and limitations of his programme are now seriously undermining his support. Parliamentary elections to the National Assembly are due to be held in 2010. Chávez is aiming to try and secure a two-thirds majority. This seems unlikely at the moment. Yet to try and assist reach his objective his regime has changed the method of election and eliminated the proportional representation system which used to exist. Such steps only further undermine his support and re-enforce the idea that he is now building a repressive regime. This plays into the hands of the right-wing. The threat of a "creeping counter revolution" remains as growing sections of the population become more frustrated disappointed and disillusions with the current regime.

At the same time, the prospect of more class battles erupting and even big social explosions taking place in response to the attacks of the government is present in the situation. Under such conditions, especially with a sharp economic recession it cannot be excluded that Chávez could again move to take some further radical populist measures including further nationalizations or expropriations and take other measures against the "Boli-burguesia" and corruption. This is despite his recent accommodation with this "new bourgeois" and bureaucracy.

Programme for socialist revolution needed

Yet any such steps would not resolve the underlying problem if it is not based on a conscious independent movement of the working class with a programme to carry through the socialist revolution. Even if capitalism were to be fully snuffed out, the absence of a genuine regime of workers' democracy would prevent the movement towards building socialism.

A programme for socialist revolution in Venezuela would need to include:

  • The introduction of a genuine system of workers' control through committees of elected and delegates subject to re-call that control the day to day running of the work places. The opening of the books of all companies – including nationalised companies - to inspection by committees of workers to end corruption and drive out the bureaucracy.
  • These committees should be linked up on a citywide, state and national level. State run companies should be managed on the basis of a system of democratic workers management with the boards of such companies to be made up of elected representatives of the workers in the industry, the wider sections of the working class and the poor and a workers' and peasants' government.
  • All officials to be elected and subject to immediate re-call and receive no more than the average wage of a skilled worker.
  • The expropriation of the banks, multi-national companies and 100 top families which still control the Venezuelan economy and the introduction of a democratic socialist plan of production.
  • The formation of an independent democratic trade union federation with an elected leadership under the control and accountable to the rank and file members.

The struggle for such a programme is now urgent in order to breathe fresh life into the Venezuelan revolution and prevent its stagnation, corrosion and threat of counter-revolution.

By Alejandro Rojas, CWI

Saturday, 7 November 2009



Abdullah Abdullah, the main challenger of Hamid Karzai in the Afghan presidential elections, announced on Sunday that he had decided to withdraw from the secound round of voting, which was scheduled for 7 November, ostensibly because all the conditions he had set for reform of the so-called 'Independent' Election Commission (IEC) of Afghanistan had been rejected. This decision was followed on Monday by the announcement, by this same commission, of the direct appointment of Karzai as President of Afghanistan. One of the official reasons given by the IEC for this decision was that "the presence of a single contender for the vote would have posed serious questions regarding the legitimacy of the presidency". How the direct appointment of a candidate, without holding a new vote will be more "legitimate" is not clear. This electoral process, in terms of "legitimacy", was a blatant failure for imperialism from beginning to end.

The impasse facing imperialism in Afghanistan is paralleled with a growing rejection of this war among workers and youth internationally. On the other hand, Obama administration is preparing for a possible new military escalation on the ground. Therefore, the US government and its imperialist counterparts wanted to use these elections in order to give the idea that democracy progressing in the country, and to legitimise their puppet regime. However, maybe giving the mask of democracy to a highly corrupted and discredited regime, and to a so-called "state" relying upon warlords, fundamentalists and opium trade barons a bit too ambitious a task. The way the electoral process was conducted, as well as its outcome, added to new scandals, such as the recent discovery about the CIA's regular payments to Afghan president's brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, is a serious blow to imperialism's authority.

Even before the elections were held, it was already quite clear that this electoral process would be far from 'impartial' and 'democratic', especially in a context of generalised violence, intimidation and foreign military occupation. The day of the election itself was "one of the most violent days witnessed in Afghanistan in the last eight years", according to Human Rights Watch. The general climate of violence and the lack of serious political alternative to the main candidates (the main challenger of Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah, was a previous minister in Karzai's government and linked to the rotten regime) resulted in an extremely low turn-out (38% according to official figures). In some areas and villages, virtually nobody went to the polls. The first results indicated a strong victory for Karzai, with 54.6% of the votes, and 27.8% for Abdullah. Karzai's (from the majority Pashtun community, strong in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan, where the Taleban a large presence) campaign was based on deals with different regional warlords and tribal chiefs from non-Pashtun minorities who are dominant in the North and West of the country, such as Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum, Tadjik, Qasim Fahim or Hazara Shiite, Karim Khalili, all notorious for their legacies of slaughter, drug trafficking, crime and extortion.

Moreover, massive fraud rapidly revealed itself as the core of Karzai's victory. On 30 September, Peter Galbraith, the top US official of the UN's mission in Afghanistan, was fired, after having refused to take part in a cover-up of the fraud. This case was symptomatic of the growing divisions among the ruling class on how to deal with what everybody knew was a pure electoral masquerade. Day after day, increasing evidence of frauds was revealed -there were numerous reports of 'ghost balloting sites', which never opened but registered thousands of votes-, putting more and more pressure on the shoulders of the 'international community' to distance themselves from their previously enthusiastic statements and congratulations. US imperialism started to put intense pressure on Karzai to go for a second round of voting, which the Afghan president finally agreed to. Abdullah Abdullah resigning from the planned run-off then changed the situation. Abdullah was probably ready to close his eyes to some 'irregularities' in exchange of a political deal, giving him some influence the cabinet, but the failure to reach an agreement saw him playing the card of 'integrity', despite the fact that about 300,000 votes for Abdullah had been found 'fraudulent' after the first round as well.

Even without the resignation of Abdullah, if the second poll had taken place, the turn-out would have been much worse than the first round. The Taleban had announced that they would do everything they could to sabotage the poll. A secound round would most likely have been again dominated by violence, fraud and massive abstention. Whatever the chosen solution to resolve the crisis, the few remnants of credibility regarding the process were already burned. In these conditions, US and British imperialism finally chose the faster and easier way to finish this farce by pushing for the appointment of Karzai as the new President. But this will not change anything. The recent communiqué published by the Taleban is certainly not wrong when it says that, "it's surprising that two weeks ago, the puppet-President Hamid Karzai was exposed in an electoral fraud" but that "he is now elected on the basis of the same fraudulent elections, with congratulations from Washington and London."

These elections, rather than giving any credibility to Afghan political institutions, have only succeeded in triggering anger and distrust against the Afghan regime, and the blatant complicity of imperialism and United Nations in trying to cover up its manoeuvres. A president whose authority outside Kabul is only achieved though unstable alliance with warlords, combined with a huge rejection of the war in their own countries, is now the political background facing imperialist governments, combined with an increase in Taleban violence.

Losing the war at home

The Afghan war is becoming exposed as an unwinnable, unpopular mess of atrocities for the US army and NATO coalition. The U.N. reported recently that the death toll of Afghan civilians is at almost 1,500 for this year alone, while September and October were the deadliest months for NATO troops since the invasion of the country, in 2001. The rising death toll during the last months has contributed to decisively breaking the public support for the war, particularly in Britain and in the US. According to a new poll published by Channel 4 News at the end of October, 48% of British respondents thought troops were not winning the war and that victory in Afghanistan "is impossible", a huge increase, compared with 36% in August 2007. The same poll reveals that 62% wanted the troops to withdraw from Afghanistan "immediately or within a year". In the US, at the end of August, a CNN poll. showed that only 41% of American people justified the war in Afghanistan. In Canada, France, Italy, Germany, and in every country with troops in Afghanistan, the majority of people also strongly favour withdrawal.

This sentiment is spreading more and more in the army itself. Joe Glenton, a British soldier facing the threat of being jailed for two years for refusing to return to fight in Afghanistan, is participating in demos and rallies against the war, calling for a complete withdrawal of the troops. He explained recently that, when returning to his barracks near Oxford, he feared a hostile reaction from his colleagues. Instead, he was applauded by fellow soldiers. "They were handshakes and a lot of pats on the back. Someone said I was saying what everyone else is thinking." Significantly, the morale of the troops on the ground is at its lowest point since the beginning of the war, and disillusionment is spreading fast among the rank-and-file soldiers. There are reports of suicide attempts, anxiety and depression, with explosions of anger against officers, etc. The current mission in Afghanistan is considered as one of the main causes of the sharp increase in the number of suicides in the US army. Last year, 128 soldiers committed suicide, compared with 115 in 2007. However, the suicide rate so far this year is already on the verge of surpassing this number. "Many soldiers have a sense of futility and anger about being here. They are really in a state of depression and despair, and just want to get back to their families", was the observation of a British Artillery Captain in "The Times" newspaper. In the same article, a 37-year-old Sergeant from Detroit, asked if the mission was worthwhile, replied: "If I knew exactly what the mission was, probably so, but I don't. The only soldiers who thought it is going well work in an office, not on the ground. The whole country is going to shit."

Indeed, as long as foreign imperialist forces, tribal leaders, warlords and reactionary forces like the Taleban are controlling the region and fighting for influence, this sentiment is essentially correct! All the futile arguments used to justify the war and occupation by the US and British governments have been reduced to dust. This war achieved absolutely nothing in terms of bringing democratic rights to the Afghan people. This is dramatically illustrated by the worsening situation regarding women's rights. Recently, Karzai approved a disgusting and ultra-reactionary law for Afghanistan's Shia community, depriving women custody of their children, forcing women to ask their husband for the right to work, and allowing a man the right to refuse to give food to his wife if she refuses his sexual demands. The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan estimates that 87% of Afghan women are illiterate, only 30% of girls have access to education, one in every three women experiences physical, psychological, or sexual violence, and 70-80% of young Afghan women are forced into marriage.

Recently, a Pakistani infantry officer, commenting on the Afghan war, was pointing out: "The root cause of the insurgency is not religion but poverty." According to him, a solution cannot be found without "identifying means of improving conditions for Pakistanis, Afghans, and Central Asian peoples whose chronically corrupt leaderships steal everything within their reach." Indeed, the abject poverty facing the majority of Afghan people contrasts with the rich lifestyle of the corrupt economic and political Afghan elite. Moreover, the number of refugees fleeing the country has reached gigantic proportions -close to four million, according to the last estimations. Also, Afghanistan has become the biggest producer and distributor of opium on the planet - funding, among other things, the Taleban insurgency.

Winning the hearts and minds?

The growing hostility to the Afghanistan war internationally is accompanied by a growing hostility from the Afghan people themselves towards Western troops occupying the country. The French newspaper "Le Monde" said recently that, "The context of the evolution of the French troops in the East of Afghanistan is one of frank hostility from the local population. The conclusion of this reject is drawn since several months by French authorities, but tends to be hidden by the politicians in Paris, conscious of the growing doubts from the public opinion regarding the military involvement in Afghanistan." This sentiment of hatred against foreign occupation was recently illustrated by protests against American troops initiated by students in Kabul. Hundreds of protesters clashed for two days with Afghan police in the capital, burning the American flag and effigies of President Obama.

In the absence of a real alternative, this deep opposition to the occupation has served to feed the recruitment basis for the Taleban, attracting endless recruits. The Taleban insurgency is not a unified and national movement with a centralised command, but is divided into different armed groups. Research by the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) gives interesting indications about the influence of these groups: it says that 80% of Afghanistan now has a "permanent Taliban presence" and that 97% of the country has "substantial Taliban activity." But a new feature developing in the last months has been that their influence, until recently confined mainly to Southern and Eastern Afghanistan, is spreading to the North of the country as well, in areas traditionally considered as more 'secure', like the Kunduz Province. These facts are sufficient in themselves to show the total failure and the ongoing military defeat being experienced by imperialist forces.

The Financial Times recently underlined: "Since major NATO military operations started in Afghanistan in 2006, support for the insurgency has grown" This kind of statement coming from one of the most influential mouthpieces of capitalism reflects the growing divisions developing in the ruling class regarding debate on a possible deployment of new military forces and on how to get out of this mess without undermining the prestige and interests of US and British imperialism. Some strategists are now stressing the need to push for further "dialogue" and agreements with parts of the Taleban, by financing or integrating them into the State apparatus. But this could only lay the basis for further problems. The growing disaster of imperialism in Afghanistan has led the majority of big business strategists and journalists to play down the original "aims"of the occupation, and move towards minimal objectives. The "fight for democracy" has been transformed into "We do not have to create a Jeffersonian democracy" (Los Angeles Times, 10/05/2009) or "Forget Nation-building" (The Guardian, 10/05/2009), while the "fight against the Taliban and to protect Afghan people" has been transformed into "Nato forces cannot hope to secure the whole of Afghanistan. The International Security Assistance Force goal of protecting the population is unachievable in its entirety" (Mehar Omar Khan, cited in the Financial Times, 10/28/2009)

All these discussions have also revealed fractures in the so-called 'unity' of the NATO-coalition, with each state having its own agenda in terms of strategic interests abroad, as well as in terms of declining public support for the war at home. Speaking about the British costs of the war in Afghanistan, a senior Whitehall official said: "The costs of the war have risen to more than £3bn ($5bn) a year. Yet a deployment like this comes at a time of real pressure on public spending. Britain has a deficit of £175bn this year. The idea that there is a limit to what we can devote to this campaign is not something that should shock people." What "shocks people" is obviously not the limits in the war budget, but, on the contrary, the unthinkable sums of money used for this war while public services and jobs are under threat under the cover of a so-called lack of money.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently agreed to send 500 more troops into Afghanistan, added to the already 9,000 troops present on the ground. The Spanish government made a similar decision, sending 220 more troops, raising their total to about 1,000. In the US, an intense debate on sending several thousand more troops, while a total of 68,000 are already on the ground. Barack Obama has been put under increasing pressure, on the one side from military officials and a section of the political establishment calling for more troops – General McChrystal spoke of an additional 40.000 -, and on the other side by the domestic unpopularity of the war. Indeed, a decision to send more troops could fuel discontent against the Obama administration and lay the basis for a renewal of the anti-war movement in the US. On 5 October, a poll showed that only 26% of Americans believe more US troops must be deployed. A political crisis in the Democratic Party could develop as well, as some Democratic leaders have come out against sending more troops, saying that there is no public support for such a move and that the Afghan army must take up a greater share of the burden. This proposed strategy, of an "Afghanisation" of the security forces, by recruiting and training more Afghan police and army, suffered a major blow with the recent killing of five British soldiers by a "rogue" Afghan policeman in Southern Helmand Province on Tuesday 3 November. This gives a new indication of the total disarray facing imperialism in Afghanistan. In this context, we will see an increase in opportunist stands against the war from establishment politicians in the next period. On Wednesday, the former British Labour Foreign Office minister, Kim Howells, called for a withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan. This is not in any way a consistent opposition to the war, as Howells was a strong supporter of the war during his time as a foreign minister, between 2005 and 2008.

The pressure of the opposition to the war on Obama was illustrated by his first attendance, last Thursday 29 October, at a repatriation ceremony for the bodies of American soldiers killed in Afghanistan. But the crocodile tears of the politicians will not be able to reverse growing discontent regarding the sending of mainly poor and working class young people to die in an unwinnable war for the prestige and profits of the elite. A British Colonel responsible for the army recruitment recognised in the Guardian: "The recession has had a big impact on the numbers coming forward." With the dramatic increase in unemployment caused by the recession, for the US and British governments the recession's "lost generation" of young people are seen as perfect candidates to lose their lives on the battlefield.

Which way forward?

The imperialist intervention in Afghanistan has created an irredeemable mess. The occupation, supposedly for "democracy, peace and justice", has only succeeded in bringing growing misery, mass killings of civilians, increasing the influence of religious extremism and bombings attacks, and last but not least, exporting the conflict into Pakistan, with disastrous consequences for the masses of that country as well. The occupation only exacerbates the chaos, and will lead to new conflicts, for power and influence, between warlords who have been considerably strengthened.

US imperialism is directly responsible for the devastation of the country. In addition, the monster they are fighting against at the present time is their own creation. Together with their Pakistani and Saudi partners, US imperialism has consciously promoted and financed the Taliban and religious fundamentalists in the past. This strategy was especially useful to fight against "Communist" forces in the 1980s. But since then, they have lost control of their own monster. The idea that they can now resolve the problem they have themselves created is a total illusion.

The cost of this war has reached an average of $3.5 billion a month. However, similar financial attention has not been paid to the struggle to survive which characterises the day-to-day life of the majority of people living in this country. This money, invested in destruction, could instead have been used to build thousands of schools, and hospitals, and to provide a decent life, with jobs and housing for all. This would be a far more efficient way to fight against the Taleban than with tons of bombs and thousands of helicopters, planes and soldiers. But this kind of plan doesn't correspond to the interests of imperialism, looking only for a way to maintain and extend its influence in the region for economic interests.

An increase in troops will not bring any solution to the present situation, but only prepare the ground for new catastrophes and explosions of violence. The frustration and despair among poor and ordinary people, caused by occupation and poverty, with the absence of a genuine socialist alternative, feeds the ranks of religious fundamentalism. In the absence of an organised mass and democratic movement of the working class and poor, the anger spreading amongst the population could be used by Taliban, tribal chiefs and warlords and other reactionary forces which are only looking to further their own interests and have absolutely no alternative to offer to the present regimes. What is needed is a common struggle of the working and poor masses to assure their own security and to improve their living conditions.

This must be linked to the transformation of society along socialist lines. Indeed, more than ever, the situation in Afghanistan presents a choice between socialism and barbarism. Capitalism's only way of solving problems is to create new ones, at the expense of the lives of millions. The only viable way forward is to build a mass movement in the region in order to get rid of the corrupted elite and their international big business backers. This struggle must be based on a programme which defends the right to self-determination for the different national and ethnic minorities, and which appeals to the international solidarity of the workers movement. This must be supported by the building of a powerful movement against war worldwide and of strong workers' parties, arguing the case for an international socialist alternative against the misery of war and capitalism.

We Demand

  • Troops out of Afghanistan now! Stop the slaughter of civilians; let the Afghan people decide their own future!
  • No support for the corrupt and undemocratic regime of Karzai; for a mass struggle to remove reactionary regimes in Asia and in the Middle East!
  • For genuine democratic rights; stop the attacks against women's rights
  • For the building of independent and democratic organisations of the workers and poor; for democratically organised, multi-ethnic workers' defence forces
  • For a massive reconstruction programme in Afghanistan, under the democratic control of the masses; for public ownership of the gas, oil, and other key industries and resources
  • For the establishment of a workers' and peasants' government on a democratic socialist programme, as part of a socialist federation of South Asia, including Pakistan
  • Build a mass movement against the war! Don't pay for the capitalist crisis! Spend money on jobs and public services, not on war and weapons!
  • For a socialist world, free from terror, exploitation and war

Cedric Gerome, CWI


Thursday, 22 October 2009


Michael Moore's Assault on Capitalism

What is the Alternative?

Michael Moore's new film, Capitalism: A Love Story, opens with a simple message: "Capitalism is evil," and must be replaced with a system that puts the interests of ordinary people over profit.

Moore calls this movie "the culmination of all the films I've ever made." In his previous films, he focused on specific industries like health insurance (Sicko) or corporations like General Motors (Roger & Me). But in Capitalism, Moore shows how the problems we face are systemic in nature, rather than the product of a few bad apples or a handful of evil corporations.

Capitalism: A Love Story will expose to millions the realities of a system which has only one goal: the short-term maximisation of profit. The significance of this – a major filmmaker denouncing capitalism in front of an audience of millions in the most powerful capitalist nation in the world – should not be lost. While Moore does not provide a clear alternative, he forces open a popular debate on the need to transform the entire social system.

Victims of the system

Moore interviews families facing foreclosures and layoffs. He traces the devastation of Randy and Donna Hacker, as police force them from the home they built on their family farm. As Randy Hacker says, "There's gotta be some kind of rebellion between the people that's got nothing and the people who have it all… There's no in between anymore."

Moore also exposes the "Dead Peasant" insurance policy, through which giant corporations take out life insurance policies on their employees, usually unbeknownst to the workers or their families. If a worker dies, these companies collect tens of thousands – or even millions! – of dollars, while the family is left to foot the bills for medical and funeral expenses.

This is the sick logic of the capitalist system, in which human life itself is reduced to a mere commodity. Moore exposes Wall Street for what it is – an "insane casino" – and fittingly, covers it in crime scene tape.

Capitalism Vs. Democracy

At the end of the film, Moore concludes: "Capitalism is an evil, and you can't regulate evil. You have to eliminate it, and replace it with something that is good for all people." Yet, he avoids putting forward a coherent alternative.

Moore counterpoises his call for real "democracy" to the anti-democratic character of capitalism.

As he told Democracy Now, "The wealthiest 1% [of Americans] have more financial wealth than the bottom 95% combined. When…1% essentially not only own all the wealth, but own Congress, call the shots, are we really telling the truth when we call this a democracy? You and I have no say in it….. have no say in how this economy is run." (Democracy Now, 9/24/09)

While highlighting the need for struggle from below, and calling for an alternative to capitalism, Moore avoids calling himself a socialist. However, the film does highlight the growing interest in socialism among Americans, and points out the recent poll showing that among people under 30, only 37% say they "prefer" capitalism to socialism, while 33% prefer socialism and 30% are unsure. What this 30% mean by "socialism" is probably less certain.

Role of the Democratic Party

Moore's film exposes the role of both the Democratic and Republican parties in implementing policies that have benefited the top 1% at the expense of ordinary workers. This film could have been a wake-up call, arguing for a political alternative to the two-party system. This would include running independent, pro-worker, anti-war candidates in the 2010 Congressional elections and preparing for a national challenge in 2012. Unfortunately, Moore himself stops short of calling for this critical step, and at times, the film serves to mask the true role of the Democratic Party.

Obama's Role

Moore also treats Obama with kid gloves, despite criticisms of his economic team and some of his policies. In the film, he presents Obama as if he were initially a threat to Wall Street and Corporate America, who they sought to rein in by throwing tons of money at him – with Goldman Sachs his top contributor. Yet Obama never would have been able to make his meteoric rise to power had he not, from the start, been thoroughly vetted by key power brokers among the U.S. corporate elite, who he impressed with his ability to employ a soaring message of "hope" and "change" at the same time as faithfully serving the same interests who have run the show for many years.

Moore supported Obama's campaign in 2008 and even helped create false illusions in his policies. This was despite Obama's support for the bank bailouts, opposition to single-payer, and call to send tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan.

Today, as millions grow increasingly frustrated with Obama and the Congressional Democrats' policies, Moore continues to create illusions in them. In late September, he told the AFL-CIO convention, "Instead of us piling on [Obama], he needs our support… Who's got his back?" (Washington Post, 9/16/09)

Instead of "having Obama's back," the key is to mobilise, independently of the Democrats and Republicans, around the needs of working people, rather than from the standpoint of what is acceptable to the corporations and their two-party system.

Moore himself was once a proud champion of the need to break from the Democrats and build a political alternative that represents working people. He was a supporter of the Labor Party in the 1990s, founded by a number of the country's most progressive unions, and also a major backer of Ralph Nader's 2000 presidential campaign. For those who want to see real change, it's necessary to return to this spirit.

Movement Against Capitalism Needed

Moore ends the film with an appeal for people to get active in building movements against the corporate domination of our society. It is an appeal that could certainly catch on, given the anger bubbling up beneath the surface in U.S. society.

The need to struggle to fundamentally transform this system is posed more urgently now than ever before. Let Capitalism: A Love Story be a wake-up call for a new generation of activists to build struggles and link these to the struggle to fundamentally transform the system. To anyone interested in building a fight back against capitalism, we urge you to join the CWI. Join us in the fight for a world free of poverty, exploitation, war, and the tyranny of the super-rich. Join us in the struggle for a democratic socialist future.

By Dan DiMaggio, CWI USA

Wednesday, 21 October 2009



On the twentieth anniversary of 1989 the ideologues, politicians and media of world capitalism wish to reinforce in popular consciousness that the events of that tumultuous year signified just one thing: the 'final defeat' of Marxism, 'communism' and socialism itself, buried forever under the rubble of the Berlin wall. This also meant the final victory of capitalism, which 'ended history' according to Francis Fukuyama, and established this system as the only possible model for organising production and running society. An economic paradigm, abolishing even capitalism's 'boom and bust' cycles, had established a golden staircase which would lead towards an ever-increasing humane, fairer and civilised existence. The economic crisis of the early part of this decade, accompanied by the Iraq and Afghan wars, severely dented this prognosis. The current devastating 'great recession' has utterly discredited it. Moreover, it was Marxism – members and supporters of the Socialist Party and this journal – which predicted this. Yet we were supposed to have been relegated to the margins, destined never again to exercise an influence.

The outcome of the momentous events of 1989 was indeed a 'revolution', but a social counter-revolution, resulting in the ultimate liquidation of what remained of the planned economies of Russia and Eastern Europe. But this movement, which swept from one country to another, did not start out with this ultimate aim, particularly on the part of the masses. Nor did the capitalists – through their representatives like British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and French president François Mitterrand – expect or, initially, wholeheartedly welcome the mass movements that accompanied the collapse of the Stalinist regimes.

The brutal organ of American finance capital, the Wall Street Journal, commenting on the competition between capitalism and the 'communist' regimes of Eastern Europe, declared simply at the beginning of 1990: 'We Won'. A no less exultant Independent (8 January 1990) spoke of "confidence that – as a system – capitalism is a winner". The impression given then and since is that the Olympian soothsayers of capitalism foretold the events of 1989. Yet the Financial Times – the mouthpiece of finance capital then and now – wrote: "East Germany has no mass movement on the horizon yet, Czechoslovakia's leadership cannot allow the questioning of the source of its legitimacy in the Soviet invasion of 1968, Hungary faces dissidents, but not yet a proletariat aroused. Bulgaria will introduce Soviet-style reforms, without yet Soviet-style chaos or fledgling democracy, Romania and Albania are clamped in iron". This was written by John Lloyd, formerly of the New Statesman, not three decades before but on 14 October 1989, less than a month before the collapse of the Berlin wall!

Understanding Stalinism

In mitigation for this 'relapse' in 'perspectives', the late Hugo Young wrote in The Guardian newspaper (29 December 1989) that "not a single seer foresaw" the momentous events of that year. This is not true. It was precisely the Marxist theoretician, Leon Trotsky, with his 'antediluvian' methods, who more than half a century before had foretold the inevitable revolt of the working class against Stalinism (at that time confined to the 'Soviet Union'). He predicted a mass movement to overthrow the bureaucratic usurpers who controlled the state and a political revolution to establish workers' democracy. But he also wrote in the 1930s in his monumental work, The Revolution Betrayed, that a wing of the bureaucracy could preside over a return to capitalism.

This idea was not sucked out of Trotsky's thumb but was grounded in meticulous analysis of the contradictions of Stalinist misrule and the forces that this would inevitably conjure up. Karl Marx pointed out that the key to history was the development of the productive forces – science, technique, and the organisation of labour. He also said that no system disappears without exhausting all the possibilities latent within it. Capitalism, an economic system based on production for profit – the unpaid labour of the working class – as its raison d'être, rather than social need, faces a cycle of 'boom and bust', which even Gordon Brown is now forced to recognise. But, as Trotsky analysed, Stalinism – for different reasons to capitalism – by exercising a bureaucratic stranglehold, would become an absolute fetter on the further economic development of society at a certain stage.

In the period until probably the end of the 1970s, despite the monstrosities of Stalin and the regime he presided over – the purge trials, the slave labour of the gulag – industry and society did develop. At this stage, despite the colossal overheads arising from bureaucratic misrule, Stalinism played a relatively progressive role. There were some analogies with capitalism with its rise in the nineteenth century until 1914, when it became a barrier to further progress, signified by the horrors of the first world war. Faced with stagnation, regression and even disintegration, which is what occurred in the Stalinist states – particularly in Russia from the late 1970s – the regimes lurched from one expedient to another. They moved from centralisation to decentralisation and then to recentralisation in vain attempts to escape from the bureaucratic dead end.

The methods of bureaucratic rule, of commandism, could have some effect when the task in Russia was to borrow industrial techniques from the West, develop an industrial infrastructure, etc, and when the cultural level of the mass of the working class and the peasantry was still low. But by the 1970s, Russia had become highly industrialised and, even if some of the claims of success were exaggerated, an industrial rival to the USA. It did produce more scientists and technicians at one stage than even the US. But the very creation of a more culturally advanced workforce – highly educated in some senses – meant that rule from the top came into collision with the needs of industry and society. Prices for millions of commodities, for instance, were set bureaucratically in the central ministries in Moscow as the regime became more and more of an impediment. Mass discontent grew and was reflected not just in the attempts at political revolution in Hungary in 1956, Poland, Czechoslovakia in 1968, etc, but also Russia. The strikes in 1962 in Novocherkassk, for instance, showed the danger which threatened the continued rule of the bureaucracy.

Lifting the lid

It was in this situation that Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union representing a more 'liberal' wing of the bureaucracy, pledged to open up through perestroika (restructuring politics and the economy) and glasnost (openness). In subsequent historical accounts, Gorbachev has become the figure presiding over the return to capitalism in Russia and the liquidation of the former USSR. However, he did not start out with this intention. Like all ruling classes or elites, and in the tradition of former bureaucratic rulers from Stalin onwards, feeling the mass rumblings of discontent from below, Gorbachev tried desperately to introduce reforms as a means of heading off revolution. Inevitably, a slight lifting of the pressure cooker produces the result of mass revolt, which it was intended to avoid.

In commenting on 1989, capitalist representatives have dropped their usual hesitation with even uttering the word 'revolution'. This contrasts with their description – repeated ad nauseum, particularly in the recent biography of Trotsky by Robert Service – of Russia's October revolution of 1917 as a 'coup'. In describing 1989 as a revolution, they are at least half correct. There were the beginnings of a revolution – to be more precise, elements of a political revolution – in East Germany, Romania, Czechoslovakia, China with the Tiananmen Square events, and even in Russia itself, even though the mass movement did not reach the same heights. In all these countries there was an unmistakeable expression, initially, for democratic reform within the system, which was an implicit acceptance of the continuation of the planned economy. This movement swept with tremendous speed like a prairie fire from one country to another. A poster in Prague at the time read: 'Poland – 10 years. Hungary – 10 months. East Germany – 10 weeks. Czechoslovakia – 10 days. Romania! 10 hours'.

Moreover, the methods used to blow away the Stalinist regimes were mass demonstrations and general strikes – not the usual methods of bourgeois counter-revolution – with demands aimed at cutting down or abolishing the bureaucracy's privileges. In one of many reports in Militant (predecessor of The Socialist) prior to the collapse of the Stalinist regime in East Germany, the demand for democracy was evident. On 24 October, we reported: "A few thousand youth were marching through the streets. They were blocked by rows of police who linked arms. The youth marched right up to them and started chanting 'You are the people's police. We are the people. Who are you protecting?' They sang the Internationale then they started a song from the struggles against the fascists called 'The Workers' United Front'. Its words had a particular effect on the police: 'You belong to the workers' united front also, because you are workers as well'. The police simply stood and were brushed aside as the youths surged forward. In the pubs, corps of soldiers openly discussed with workers and youth. One group was discussing the prospect of the regiment being ordered to fire on demonstrators. A conscript interjected: 'They may order it but we will never fire on the people. If they do that we may turn on the officers instead'."

In Russia posters appeared: 'Not the people for socialism but socialism for the people; do away with the special privileges for politicians and bureaucrats, servants of the people should have to stand in queues'. At this stage, one opinion poll in Russia showed that only 3% would vote for a capitalist party in multiparty elections. The serious representatives of capitalism feared that the demands for a political revolution would take precedence over the pro-capitalist mood that undoubtedly existed in some layers. One, perhaps even two, million workers were on the streets of Beijing, with half a million greeting Gorbachev in May. After the bloody suppression of Tiananmen, former British Tory prime minister Edward Heath appeared on television alongside Henry Kissinger, president Nixon's notorious right-hand man in the bombing of Vietnam and Cambodia. Heath stated: "The Chinese students and workers aren't after the sort of democracy we advocate… they were singing the Internationale". Kissinger complained that it was 'unfortunate' that the mass movement had sullied the end of Chinese leader Deng Xiao-Ping's career.

For the record, both opposed the spilling of blood. But more important for them was the maintenance of trade and other relations with the Chinese bureaucracy. Sickeningly, right-wing Labour MP Gerald Kaufman – famous recently for having his hand in the till over MPs' expenses –then Labour's foreign affairs spokesperson, declared: "One could understand the Chinese government wanting to get control of the square, although they have gone immeasurably too far in retrieving control".

Alarm in the west

Thatcher also expressed alarm at events in Eastern Europe, particularly the prospect of German reunification after the collapse of the Berlin wall. Files recently smuggled out of Russia and published in The Times in September mention that Thatcher "two months before the fall of the wall… told President Gorbachev that neither Britain nor Western Europe wanted the reunification of Germany and made clear that she wanted the Soviet leader to do what he could to stop it". She stated: "We do not want a united Germany… This would lead to a change in post-war borders, and we cannot allow that because such a development would undermine the stability of the whole international situation and could endanger our security".

In a meeting with Gorbachev she insisted that the tape was turned off. Unfortunately for her, notes were taken of her remarks. She did not mind what was happening in Poland, where the Communist Party was defeated in the first open vote in Eastern Europe since the Stalinist takeover, "just some of the changes in Eastern Europe". Incredibly, particularly given the subsequent bellicose statements of US president George Bush senior on the Warsaw Pact, she wanted it to "remain in place". She particularly expressed her "deep concern" at what was happening in East Germany.

Mitterrand was also alarmed at the prospect of German reunification and even contemplated a military alliance with Russia "to stop it". He was prepared to camouflage this as "the joint use of armies to fight natural disasters" used, in effect, as a warning against the East German masses going too far. On the one side, the stance of Thatcher and Mitterrand expressed the fear of a strengthened German capitalism, but also that the repercussions of these developments could trigger an uncontrolled mass movement in Western Europe and elsewhere. One of Mitterrand's advisers, Jacques Attali, even said he would "go and live on Mars if [German] unification occurred". Thatcher wrote in her memoirs: "If there is one instance in which a foreign policy I pursued met with unambiguous failure, it was my policy on German reunification".

Gorbachev and his Kremlin entourage, while flattered by the hosannas to him in western capitalist circles, were panicking at the pace and sequence of events in Eastern Europe. Gorbachev naïvely believed that by partial concessions, a refusal to prop up the Stalinist dinosaurs in East Germany (he thought Erich Honecker, East Germany's unbending autocrat, was an 'arsehole'), the masses would be grateful and call it a day. Gorbachev had no intention at the outset to 'liberalise' Stalinism out of existence. He certainly had no declared intention of ushering in capitalism. But, like the rest of the ruling Stalinist regimes, he was dragged along by events. It was not just Honecker, the Ceaucescus in Romania, the ruling Stalinist gangs in Bulgaria and elsewhere who were toppled. Eventually the movements in Eastern Europe – on the 'periphery' of Stalinism – spread to the Russian heartland. The net result was a return to capitalism throughout Eastern Europe and Russia itself.

Was capitalist restoration inevitable?

Was this an inevitable outcome? There is no 'inevitability' in history if, when conditions for revolution mature, the 'subjective factor' is present in the form of a tried and tested revolutionary leadership and party. This was clearly missing in all the Stalinist states, particularly in Russia itself. There was widespread revulsion at the untrammelled rule of the bureaucracy and demands for cutting down privileges and wide-scale corruption. There was a yearning, a searching by the masses for the programme of workers' democracy in all the states. Events, moreover, were being driven on the streets, in the factories and workplaces in the main. Prior to this, Marxists hoped and believed that it was possible that on the morrow of a mass revolt, even with a limited number of Marxist cadres, a mass party could be created. Then, with the necessary leadership, this could assist the masses in carrying through the tasks of the political revolution: maintaining the planned economy but renovating it on the basis of workers' democracy. But they were working in the dark, in the main, without roots or a real presence in the Stalinist states. Given the continued appearance of 'strong states' of a totalitarian character in the period right up to the events of 1989, serious mass work in particular was problematic.

This was less the case in Poland, where pronounced pro-capitalist tendencies had been evident throughout the 1980s, but emerged particularly strongly following the failure of the 1980-81 Solidarity movement. At that time, the elements of a political revolution existed even in the programme of Solidarity, although under the leadership of Lech Walesa it was under the signboard of religion, the Catholic church. Already coexisting alongside these elements were pro-capitalist sentiments. The military crushing of the Solidarity movement in 1981 was accomplished not by the Polish 'Communist' party – whose authority had completely evaporated by then – but by the Stalinist military-bonapartist regime of General Jaruzelski. This, allied to the economic upswing of capitalism throughout the 1980s, pushed into the background the hope of workers' democracy and the maintenance of the planned economy. Mass sentiment turned to other alternatives, particularly a return to capitalism, revealed during the visits of Thatcher and Bush to Poland in 1988. They received a mass greeting on the streets of Warsaw with the masses, naïvely as it turned out, expecting greater results in terms of increased living standards than the discredited Stalinist model crumbling around them.

This process was not as pronounced elsewhere, certainly not in Russia. There, the hope of a political revolution was not entirely extinguished amongst Marxists in Russia and internationally, even given the events in Poland. After all, the revolt of the Hungarian people in 1956 was accompanied by the creation of workers' councils along the model of the Russian revolution. This after the masses had been kept in the dark night of 20 years of Horthy's fascist terror followed by ten years of Stalinist terror. There was no dominant trend for a return to capitalism in 1956. The same was true in Poland in the same year, in 1970 and 1980-81. By 1968 in Czechoslovakia there were forces arguing for a return to capitalism but they were in a minority, with the overwhelming majority of the masses searching for the ideas of workers' democracy, summed up in prime minister Alexander Dubcek's phrase, 'Socialism with a human face'.

The crushing of the 1968 Czechoslovak 'Spring' – before it could blossom into the summer of a political revolution – dealt a heavy blow to the perspective of the idea of workers' democracy as a way out of the impasse of moribund Stalinism. History does not stand still; the death agony of Stalinism over a decade and more, combined with the seeming economic fireworks of the world capitalist boom of the 1980s, generated the illusion that the system 'over the wall', western capitalism, offered a better model for progress than the stultifying system of Eastern Europe and Russia.

Why the limited resistance?

One of the most perplexing issues confronting Marxists then and since was how little resistance there appeared to be amongst the mass of the population once Russia took steps in the direction of capitalism. However, an answer to this conundrum can be found in the history of Stalinism, particularly the different phases through which it passed. In particular, the purge trials organised by Stalin in 1936-38 represented a decisive turning point. By annihilating the last remnants of the Bolshevik party – destroying even the capitulators like Zinoviev and Kamenev – Stalin hoped to blot out the memory of the working class of the USSR. Until then, a couple of generations were still connected to the Russian revolution and its gains, in the form of the nationalisation of the productive forces and a plan of production.

There was generalised support, moreover, amongst the then developed layers of the working class internationally for the advantages and main conquests of the Russian revolution. This was despite the fact that, already in Russia in the 1930s, as Trotsky pointed out, there was widespread criticism of the bureaucratic regime presided over by Stalin. The advent of the Spanish revolution also had an electrifying effect in Russia, both in generating hopes for the triumph of the world revolution and for stirring the memory of what had happened in Russia two decades before. Stalin therefore conducted a 'one-sided civil war' to destroy the last vestiges of the Bolshevik party. But the purge trials went much further than this. He also used the situation – in the process maligning Trotsky and the International Left Opposition as the agents of a foreign-inspired counter-revolution in the USSR – to wipe out all remnants of the bureaucracy connected to the memory of the revolution. It was not just the Left Oppositionists who were murdered but hundreds of thousands of workers and peasants, including significant sections of the bureaucracy. Through these barbaric methods, Stalin had constructed, in effect, a bureaucratic machine that was in no way now connected with the heroic period of the October revolution. People like Nikita Khrushchev, Yuri Andropov and the rest who dominated the state for the next decades had not participated in the Bolshevik underground or in the October revolution and were, in this sense, 'without history', certainly Russia's rich revolutionary history. All the critical elements within the working class were also eliminated at this stage.

Despite the monstrous crimes of Stalinism – including the execution of the top military command of the Red Army, which facilitated Hitler's invasion in 1941 – the advantages of the planned economy were still a plus. Moreover, capitalism was plagued by crises, with the mass unemployment of the 1930s great depression. As Trotsky pointed out, there was mass opposition to Stalinism but the hand of the working class was stayed from overthrowing the regime by a combination of factors. Not least was the fear that when moving against Stalin and the bureaucracy, this would open the door to capitalist counter-revolution. At the same time, industry and society in gross general terms – and to a certain extent the living standards of the masses – went ahead despite the bureaucracy.

The death of Stalin, however, led to the revelations of Khrushchev at the 20th congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and his so-called 'thaw'. Khrushchev denounced Stalin and some of his crimes but, in reality, only 'admissible' doses of some truths were allowed. Even then these mixed-up partial truths with lies and did not touch the Stalinist myths and falsifications. Khrushchev feared going too far and the Russian Stalinist leaders like Leonid Brezhnev, who overthrew Khrushchev, clamped down on any further real 'revelations' of the crimes of Stalin and of the causes of Stalinism itself. Later, they even accepted his partial rehabilitation. Therefore, as the system began to come apart, no real Marxist alternative, never mind a developed mass consciousness or forces putting forward a programme of workers' democracy, existed in Russia.

It would have been entirely possible at the time of the collapse of Stalinism from the late 1980s to present a clear picture of the reasons for the purges, the trials, the causes of Stalinism and the alternative to this discredited system. But, ironically, the purge trials and the repressive machine had decimated any 'subjective factor' that could have developed and played a decisive role. It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that there were no elements in Russia searching for a programme for workers' democracy – as the accompanying article by Rob Jones shows (page 17). But these were too weak to counter the pull of the capitalist west, particularly for a completely unprepared new generation, lured by the seeming abundance of consumer goods which they were led to believe was there for the asking.

Gangster capitalism

The return to capitalism put paid to any attempt to honestly investigate the roots and reasons for Stalinism, in preparation for a restoration of the planned economy on the basis of workers' democracy. The few who tried were overwhelmed by a wave of malicious anti-communist propaganda from so-called 'democratic' journals in the service of the emerging bourgeoisie. They were a bourgeois mirror image of the Stalinist school of falsification. Stalinist totalitarianism, it was argued, arose from the 'criminal' character of Bolshevism; the Russian revolution was a 'coup', etc.

What followed was an orgy of capitalist propaganda which flooded post-1989 Russia. This was accompanied by promises of what the then German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, predicted would be 'blooming landscapes' in a post-Stalinist world. Along the road of a return to capitalism, the masses in these states would eventually arrive at German if not American living standards. 'Via Bangladesh', retorted the small band of Marxists in Eastern Europe. At best, what could be hoped for the working class of Russia and Eastern Europe, we argued, was perhaps that they would sink to Latin American living standards. This, we have to confess today, was a hopelessly optimistic perspective. Russia experienced an unprecedented collapse in its productive forces exceeding in its scope and depth the 1930s great depression.

Between 1989-98 almost a half (45%) of its output was lost. This was accompanied by an unprecedented disintegration throughout the former USSR in the basic elements of a 'civilised' society, with murder and crime rates doubling. By the mid-1990s the murder rate stood at over 30 per 100,000 people, against one or two in Western Europe. Only two countries at that time had higher rates: South Africa and Colombia. Even the notoriously crime-ridden Brazil and Mexico figures were 50% lower than Russia. The US murder rate, the highest in the 'developed' world at 6-7 per 100,000, paled in comparison. By 2000, a third of Russia's population was living below the officially defined poverty line. Inequality had trebled.

The murder rate was a product and a symptom of unrestrained gangster capitalism. Ex-members of the Young Communist League, like the owner of Chelsea Football Club, Roman Abramovitch, grabbed the lucrative part of former state enterprises – such as the oil industry – for themselves. A Chicago-style shootout on a national or even continental scale took place between different groups over the division of the state pie. The Russian economy effectively halved in size because of the destruction wrought by the return to capitalism. Real incomes in the 1990s plummeted by 40%. By the mid to late 1990s more than 44 million of Russia's 148 million people were living in poverty – defined as living on less than $32 per month. Three quarters of the population were on less than $100 a month. Suicides doubled and deaths from alcohol abuse had tripled by the mid-1990s. Infant mortality fell to third-world levels while the birth rate collapsed. In a mere five years of 'reform', life expectancy fell by two years to 72 for women and by four years to 58 for men. Incredibly, for men this was lower than a century previously! If the death rate had continued the Russian population would have collapsed by a million per year, falling to 123 million, a demographic collapse not seen since the second world war when Russia lost 25 to 30 million people. At the end of 1998 at least two million Russian children were orphaned – more than in 1945. Only about 650,000 lived in orphanages, while the rest of these unfortunate waifs were homeless!

The new bourgeoisie, in what has been described as a hellish free-for-all of 'grabification', in effect stole everything they could lay their hands on. They plundered the nation's wealth and natural resources, sold state-owned gold, diamonds, oil and gas. The horrors of the industrial revolution – the birth of modern capitalism – described graphically in Marx's Capital was as nothing compared to the monstrous crimes with which the new Russian bourgeoisie celebrated its entry into the world. This hell on Earth abated somewhat towards the end of the 1990s with a growth in national income fuelled mainly by the export of oil and gas which, in turn, was on the back of the world capitalist boom and has now juddered to a halt. Politically, the chaos of the 1990s was replaced by the 'order' of Vladimir Putin and now Dmitri Medvedev. But Russia has still not reached, in manufacturing production at least, the level of 1989-90. This is a devastating indictment of the 'rebirth' of capitalism in Russia. Compared to the healthy robust child of the industrial revolution at the birth of capitalism the modern Russian equivalent is still struggling to breathe, let alone walk and run. Truly the masses of all the ex-Stalinist states carry a terrible burden for the return of capitalism.

Far-reaching consequences

The working class internationally has also paid a heavy price. The collapse ushered in by 1989 was not just of the Stalinist apparatus but, with it, the planned economies, the main gain inherited from the Russian revolution itself. The social counter-revolution which has turned back the wheel of history in these states also decisively changed world relations for a period. Alone amongst Marxists, the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) recognised just what this reverse represented. It was an historic defeat for the working class. Before this an alternative model for running the economy – despite the monstrous distortions of Stalinism – existed in Russia, Eastern Europe and, to some extent, China as well. That was now eliminated. Fidel Castro compared the demise of these states as equivalent to 'the sun being blotted out'. For Marxists, these societies did not represent the sun. But they did, at least in their economic form, represent an alternative which, on the basis of workers' democracy, could take society forward.

While recognising what had taken place, we also showed that this defeat was not on the scale of the 1930s, when Hitler, Mussolini and Franco crushed the workers' organisations, thereby laying the basis for the catastrophe of the second world war. The defeat at the end of the 1980s was more of an ideological character which allowed the capitalist ideologues to jeer at any future socialist project.

Nevertheless, while the collapse of Stalinism was largely an ideological blow to the working class internationally, it also had serious material repercussions. It led to the wholesale political collapse of the leaders of the workers' organisations, who abandoned socialism even as a historic aim and embraced capitalist ideas in one form or another. Not just in Britain, with the advent of New Labour, but internationally the former workers' parties imploded into capitalist formations. They only differed from openly bourgeois parties in the same way as 'radical' liberal capitalist parties did in the past and still do in the USA, in the form of Democrats and Republicans – different sides of the same capitalist coin. In the trade unions, the leaderships in the main abandoned any idea of an alternative to capitalism. They therefore sought to accommodate themselves to the system, bargaining between labour and capital, rather than offering a fundamental challenge.

If you accept capitalism, you accept its logic, the laws of capitalism, especially the drive by the capitalists to maximise the greatest profitability on behalf of the bosses to the detriment of the working class. This goes hand-in-hand with 'social partnership'. This can lead to 'business trade unionism', which limits any militant movement of the working class for more than the bosses can allegedly give. In fact, the development of tame trade union leaders, accommodating to the limits of the system, together with the abandonment of the historic aim of socialism by the leaders of the workers' organisations, enormously bolstered the confidence and the power of the capitalists. This facilitated – without real resistance from the trade union leaders – the massive income disparity on a scale not seen since before the first world war. Unbridled capitalism has not been checked by the trade union leaders. On the contrary, it has given full scope to them to remorselessly squeeze the working class for greater output – with a smaller and smaller share going to wages – all on the altar of a revived capitalism.

Testing the left

The events of 1989 and their aftermath were tests for Marxists and those who claimed to stand on a Trotskyist position. With the exception of the CWI, the reaction of most Marxist organisations was found wanting to say the least. The Morenoites in Latin America (the International Workers' League, LIT) sought to bury their heads in the sand, refusing to recognise that capitalism had been restored. They only changed their position when events struck them on the nose and it was no longer possible to deny reality. The 'state capitalists' – the leadership of the International Socialist Tendency, including the British SWP – believed that Russia and Eastern Europe were not deformed workers' states but were state capitalist. The return to capitalism was not considered a defeat but a 'sideways move'. In East Germany, the IST supported the reunification of Germany on a capitalist basis. This approach was accompanied by the disastrous theory that nothing had fundamentally changed in the world and that, therefore, the 1990s were favourable to Marxism because it was the '1930s in slow motion'. Unfortunately, the adherents of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International also drew pessimistic conclusions. Their main theoretician, Ernest Mandel, confessed to Tariq Ali just before his death that the 'socialist project' was off the agenda for at least 50 years!

All of those who predicted the colossal extension of the life cycle of capitalism, accompanied by the burying of socialism for generations, were answered in theory in the arguments and ideas put forward by genuine Marxism in the last two decades. But the impact of events has been the biggest answer to the sceptics, particularly the present devastating world crisis of capitalism. The economic intervention of capitalist governments worldwide has managed to avoid an immediate repetition, perhaps only temporarily, of the world depression of the 1930s. At the same time, the consciousness of the working class of the gravity of the situation has not yet caught up with the objective situation. This partially restored the previously shattered confidence of the spokespersons of world capitalism who dreaded that mass upheavals challenging the very foundations of their system would develop on the back of this crisis.

In general, human thought is very conservative; the consciousness of the working class always lags behind events. This is reinforced when the working class has no mass organisation which can act as a point of reference in the struggle against capitalism. The right, even the far-right, seem to have been the first major political beneficiaries of this crisis. This is not unique or exceptional in the first phase of an economic crisis. Something similar also developed in some countries in the 1930s, as the British political commentator Seumus Milne pointed out recently in The Guardian. However, he was too sweeping in giving the impression that this was the immediate reaction in all countries then. The 1930s crisis also witnessed a political radicalisation amongst the working class to a much greater extent than has yet developed in this crisis.

Out of the 1930s crisis, it is true there was the strengthening of the Nazis in Germany. But also the Spanish revolution began to unfold and the masses moved into action belatedly but decisively in France from 1931 onwards. The factor that was present, although imperfect, in the 1930s and not yet present today, was mass socialist and communist parties and organisations of the working class that, formally at least, stood in opposition to capitalism. Even in the US during the crisis of 1929-33, while the working class was paralysed industrially, significant sections were radicalised politically and even the Communist Party, for instance, filled out with new members. That this has not yet happened on a significant scale is largely the result of the absence of even small mass parties of the working class, the creation of which remains an urgent task for socialists, Marxists and the labour movement. However, even then, as the attempts to create such organisations have already underlined, without a firm Marxist core providing the theoretical backbone for these formations, many of these new developments could falter, some could be stillborn and even collapse. Nevertheless, a fundamental task remains to create the basis of such formations in the next period.

1989 was a turning point in general and also for Marxism. As the most optimistic but also the most realistic trend within the labour movement, we recognised what had occurred was a significant setback for the workers' movement. But we were not thrown off balance. The collapse of Stalinism did not eliminate the inherent contradictions of capitalism. True, the system was given a boost, furthering the process of globalisation through the supply of cheap labour, a new source of exploitation, even super-exploitation by capitalism. But the very weakness of the labour movement encouraged the confidence, indeed the overweening arrogance of the ruling class, which overreached itself in the bubble economies of the last two decades. Hubris has been followed by the nemesis of this crisis. The landscape of world capitalism is not at all 'blooming' but is littered with millions of discarded unemployed workers and the growth in the army of the poor.

The working class is stirring and is fighting back. Marxism, relegated by capitalist ideologues to the margins, by squarely facing up to this situation has demonstrated its viability in this difficult period. But it is not only in periods of defeat that its advantages are shown through a sober analysis. Its programme and policies, through the Socialist Party and the CWI, in this new period of increased mobilisation by the masses against capitalism, will also come into their own. 1989 did not bury socialism or Marxism. It temporarily blurred the vision of the working class, which is now being cleared through the present crisis and the incapacity of this system to solve even the basic requirements of the mass of the peoples of the planet.

Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party (CWI in England & Wales)