Global Perspectives: Crisis and Class Struggle
In March, 2018, delegations from 16 different countries met in Buenos Aires, Argentina for the 11th Conference of the Trotskyist Fraction for the Fourth International (FT). This is the fourth and final part of the Document on the International Situation.
May 16, 2018
The Crisis of the European Union’s Imperialist Project
The European bourgeoisie enjoyed a certain respite in 2017 as the economy began to grow modestly and the extreme right that threatened to come to power in France and Holland was defeated, leaving Britain more isolated as it undertakes the Brexit negotiations on unfavorable terms. Macron’s victory in France has strengthened the policy of deepening the Union’s integration under the leadership of France and Germany. However, although the collapse of the EU and the euro that was at the center of the debate only a couple of years ago is not currently under discussion, this relative optimism was short-lived as new and old contradictions have come to light that have created tensions in the European Union since the 2008-09 crisis. In addition to the divisions between North and South, other tensions have emerged as a result of the resistance to the policies of German imperialism and the refugee crisis. These conditions are recreating the material foundations of pro-sovereignty trends on the extreme and xenophobic right, which have become a lasting phenomenon beyond the internal political crises of some important parties such as the National Front in France or the British UKIP. This trend was reinforced in the last elections in Italy, which saw the collapse of the Democratic Party, a loss of votes for Berlusconi’s traditional right and a strengthening of anti-establishment parties like the racist Northern League and the “populist” Five Star Movement.
The relationship between the United States and the European Union, which had been strongly promoted by Obama, is at its lowest ebb and is nearing a breaking point with Germany in particular. The relationship has worsened with the EU threat of imposing tariffs on US products from key Republican electoral districts, such as Harley Davidsons or Bourbon, in response to Trump’s protectionist measures. This open hostility has increased the cohesion between France and Germany and encouraged the search for independent EU policies, including the proposal for the establishment of a European defense force, which began to take shape in the last Munich Security Conference, though it had been under discussion for some time. But it also increases the centrifugal tendencies spearheaded by the group of EU countries where far-right nationalist parties are in power and clearly identify with Brexit or Trump’s nationalist rhetoric. In particular, this tension fueled by the refugee crisis is on the rise with the four countries in the Visegrád group – Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia – the first three of which are governed by right-wing populist parties. These former communist countries have become bulwarks of reaction. In the case of Poland, which is mainly motivated by hostility towards Russia, the crisis with the EU is reaching constitutional proportions. The discussion on the rate at which the EU should expand has also created a crisis with the Balkans.
The counter-trend to this was the left expression of the Catalan independence process, which despite being “pro-European” exposed the nature of the EU, which immediately aligned itself with the reactionary and monarchist Spanish forces.
The most novel aspect is that the political crisis has reached Germany, which had previously been the bulwark of stability and conservatism and the ruling power of the EU. The “Merkel era” is coming to an end. The September elections saw the relative defeat of the two major parties and the emergence of Alternative for Germany, a far-right party that gained seats in the parliament for the first time. Although Merkel managed to form a coalition government with the SPD, it is a weak government that emerged after months of negotiations at a high cost. The SPD is facing an internal rebellion precisely because its campaign had been focused on leaving the “grand coalition.” They are united in the fear that, if new elections were called, votes for the extreme right would increase.
The governments of the “extreme center,” both conservative and social democratic, have largely adopted the agenda of the far right and are implementing anti-immigrant state policies, which along with the actions of union bureaucracies that perpetuate the division between the “native” and “immigrant” working class, fuel racist tendencies and facilitate the xenophobic propaganda of right-wing “populist” parties. The various “antifascist alliances” with no class delimitation are impotent, because the struggle against racism and for open borders is inextricably linked to an anti-capitalist program that confronts the imperialist EU in pursuit of the socialist unity of Europe.
Latin America: Decline of Populism and Rise of Non-Hegemonic Right-Wing Parties
After a decade of economic growth and political reformism essentially based on the super cycle of raw material exports, Latin America has caught up with the general trends in the global economy with the collapse of high commodity prices.
The resulting polarization manifests itself in a contradictory scenario: the cycle of populist governments has come to an end, there has been a shift towards right-wing governments in most countries, with the exception of Bolivia, Uruguay, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Ecuador, where the rightward turn was led by Correa’s successor. But this is an unconsolidated right, which does not have a hegemonic project like the neoliberalism of the 90s, and must deal with the power relations inherited from the previous situation, which it has not managed to reverse. This has created obstacles for the neoliberal onslaught and reforms that are at the core of its economic program, which it has managed to pass only with great difficulty. As a result of this situation, none of the parties or candidates of the neoliberal right are among the favorites for the three main elections that will take place in 2018 (Brazil, Mexico and Colombia). In Mexico, which is one of the targets of Trump’s attacks both in relation to NAFTA and immigration as well as the drug trafficking problem, the favorite candidate for this year’s presidential elections is López Obrador, of the center-left MORENA, who has emerged as a representative of Latin American “populism” despite his own turn to the right
These conditions are obstacles for the stabilization of right-wing governments and may result in sudden shifts and changes in the political situation.
The economic outlook is not good. The last year saw a recovery of the price of raw materials and growth rates; however, on a strategic level, international conditions are becoming increasingly unfavorable for Latin America. The right-wing’s neoliberal plans of “opening ourselves up to the world” conflict with the protectionist tendencies of the United States and the European Union, which do not allow access to their protected markets, as became evident in the failed negotiation between Mercosur and the EU. Imperialist investments are scarce and are essentially aimed at financial speculation, and the rise in interest rates that is already announced is very bad news for countries that have increased their debt like Argentina.
The continent is part of the international dispute between the United States, which has lost ground and now wants to recover it, and China, which has become one of the region’s key trade partners. According to documents presented at the 2nd China-CELAC Forum in January of this year, trade with China amounted to $266 billion in 2017 and China made direct investments in the region of $115 trillion, largely in three countries (Brazil, Peru and Argentina) and in the mining and hydrocarbon sectors.
Trump’s policy is to regain influence and business dominance in the United State’s old “backyard.” To that end, he sent the now-former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on a tour of five countries in the region. The US official began the offensive with a reloaded version of the “Monroe Doctrine” directed not against Spain this time, but against China, only to quickly verify that the US has lost touch with the reality of the region and, even the governments that are most in line with the United States, such as Macri’s Argentina (one of the few that abstained in the UN vote on the US’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel) are not willing to renounce their vital economic relations with the Asian giant. The objective of Tillerson’s trip was to get allied governments in line with a tougher policy against Venezuela and Cuba—although the increased autonomy the continent has acquired over the past decade and the fact that it has one of the highest levels of Anti-Americanism (and anti-Trumpism) in the world all show that there may be limits to renewed imperialist interference.
Due to a combination of objective and subjective elements, the most advanced situation is that in Argentina, where the mass actions of December 18 against Macri’s pension reform led to a change in the relations of power and have resulted in a transitory situation, raising new prospects for building the PTS (Socialist Workers’ Party), which we will discuss in the next party congress.
In Brazil, the political crisis and polarization are evident and there is still no acceptable bourgeois candidate for the next presidential elections. The continuation of the institutional coup against Dilma can be seen today in the Bonapartist actions of the judiciary and the Lava Jato operation, for which Lula, who would clearly win the most votes if he were to run, has been sentenced and could go to prison. However, the situation may change after the assassination of Marielle Franco, a councilor for the PSOL (Socialism and Liberty Party) in Rio de Janeiro, for which the coup regime is responsible, regardless of the identity of the perpetrators (drug dealers or police). The left is divided between a sector that has joined the coup camp (the PSTU [Unified Workers’ Socialist Party] and part of the PSOL) and another that promotes a popular front with the PT (Workers’ Party). The majority sector of the PSOL has thus signed a developmental manifesto with the PT and bourgeois parties as a “basis” for parliamentary action, although its candidate Boulos is running on another program, that of the “Vamos” platform, which is of a more “neoreformist” kind and includes measures that the PT does not endorse). In order to lay the foundations of a revolutionary party, it is necessary to move away from these two equally opportunistic positions.
The crisis in Venezuela is the most critical on the continent. The pro-imperialist right is trying to capitalize on the decline of Chavismo, although as yet without success, using the twofold pressure of the right-wing governments of the region and the interference of the United States and the European Union. Maduro’s government has lost part of its social base and, like all Bonapartist governments, now relies on the Armed Forces to stay in power, increasing social control over the masses and repression to avoid a Caracazo-style crisis fueled by the economic and social catastrophe. The Armed Forces now control the levers of power and have become the arbitrators of any possible bourgeois solution to the crisis. While Latin American populist groups continue to absolve Chavismo from any responsibility in this national catastrophe and justify its repressive measures even when directed against workers and the starving poor, sectors of the left, such as Morenoite groups, oppose Maduro’s Bonapartism but from a liberal democratic standpoint. They do not base their position on the struggle against imperialism and the pro-US right, which are the direct agents of corporations and bankers. The situation in Venezuela shows the debacle of bourgeois nationalism. The Chavist regime maintained the country’s rent structure and failed to change fundamental social relations—despite having nationalized companies—or put an end to the country’s dependence on imperial capital. Even today, in the midst of an unprecedented economic disaster, Maduro’s government continues to pay the country’s foreign debt and implement measures against the people, while the clique that holds the levers of state power and the bourgeoisie continue to benefit. Our fraction promotes an independent workers’ solution to the crisis, against Maduro’s Bonapartism and against imperialism and its agents.
Class Struggle and Political Prospects for the FT
The new trends of class struggle that have been developing may be signs of more profound working-class processes, influenced by the emergence of large progressive (although multi-class) movements—in particular the massive women’s movement that took to the streets again on March 8 and new political phenomena among the youth.
The most advanced process has been the one in Catalonia, despite the catastrophic role of its bourgeois leadership, to which petty-bourgeois radical separatist groups such as the CUP have adapted. We have intervened with a clearly revolutionary position, promoting a workers’ and socialist Catalonia as a foothold in the development of the anticapitalist and antimonarchical struggle across the entire Spanish state.
In Argentina the mass actions of December 14 and 18 led to a shift in the balance of power, and effectively prevented the implementation of the Macri administration’s most ambitious plan against working people, which involved the approval of a labor reform bill that would reverse significant gains made by the labor movement. This more general political situation creates better conditions for the partial struggles being waged against layoffs in specific sectors, both in the state and in the private sector, where the PTS’s strategy is to coordinate these struggles and link them to progressive mass movements, like the women’s movement.
In France, Macron’s government has launched an attack against the railway workers to set an example in order to pass its neoliberal agenda. The battle plan is to open the national railway company up to competition, reverse worker gains and close unprofitable branches. The unions are already preparing the resistance, which has the potential to turn this into a major conflict. On another level, the Onet strike led by precarious workers has gained great visibility and ended in a victory, showing how a fair policy and strategy can lead to the politicization of the most oppressed sectors of the working class. The role of the Courant Communiste Révolutionaire (CCR) has been a central factor in this outcome.
Another novel element was the IG Metall strikes in Germany, involving hundreds of thousands of workers, which shut down the operations of important automakers. These strikes granted visibility to the demands for a shorter working day, although from a reformist perspective. Despite the bureaucratic leadership, which led to mixed results, this action likely raised the aspirations of the entire working class, which has a very large precarious sector that especially includes young workers. And in the United States, the West Virginia teachers’ strike defied anti-strike laws in a state where Trump got 68% of the vote.
The women’s movement continues to be the main phenomenon on a global scale, in which young people also converge. Although it is progressive, overall it is a multi-class movement, where our strategy is to intervene to build a socialist feminist fraction in a political and ideological struggle against liberal and radical feminism.
The trends discussed in this document toward greater economic tensions, political polarization and crises in bourgeois parties may lead to changing situations and abrupt shifts, in which more profound processes of class struggle, political radicalization and radical political phenomena may emerge, especially in countries in which the strength of the labor movement converges with leftist political traditions, such as Argentina or France, creating better conditions for the construction of revolutionary workers’ parties.
Translated by Marisela Trevin