Tuesday, August 26, 2008

As the Capitalist Crisis Deepens: The Workers' Fightback is Coming--An Analysis by Larry Holmes


The workers’ fightback is coming

Activists can help

By Larry Holmes
Published Aug 24, 2008 9:59 PM

Aside from wanting to find out as much of what can be known about the current capitalist crisis, the question on the minds of all who are interested in the prospects for opening up the class struggle is “Will U.S. workers fight back?”

What makes that question all the more critical historically is the fact that this capitalist crisis is no ordinary one that’s likely to pass by quickly.

The world system of finance capital, including thousands of banks and financial institutions of every size and in every part of the world, would have gone into a freefall last March if the U.S. government had not rushed to bail out the Bear Stearns bank in order to reassure Wall Street. The freefall would have happened again in July without Washington’s bailout of two enormous government-backed mortgage banks, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The catalyst for the crisis was the housing market crash, but it has now spread throughout the entire financial system. Banks are not extending credit, factories and plants are closing, businesses are going bankrupt, unemployment is rising, and the rate of home foreclosures and evictions is rising even faster.

No industry, region of the U.S., or region of the world is unaffected by the crisis, and it is going to get worse. The only question is whether it will unfold in a slower and somewhat controlled way, or if another event—a series of bank runs, the collapse of a big bank or a new war—overcomes any efforts on the part of the government and the big banks to manage the crisis and things spin out of control.

In either case, this appears to be the end of a prolonged period when capitalism had been able to divert, escape or forestall a systemic crisis of this magnitude.

Imperialist globalization—which amounts to a war on the workers, wars of conquest, deregulation, monetary manipulation and easy credit are among the methods the capitalists have employed to avert a deep and intransigent crisis. This time they don’t seem to be working. In fact, they are making things worse.

Imperialism has not given up on these methods, and will try them again. But this time, all indications are that the inevitable megacrisis rooted in the chaos of capitalist overproduction for profit has arrived.

Not ‘the end of history’

Finding a way out of this crisis will be very, very difficult for U.S. imperialism. While still the center of world imperialism, it can no longer dominate the world through economic strength, as it once did; it has had to rely more and more on superior military might. But the military option hasn’t worked so well for them in Iraq, or even in Afghanistan.

Since the end of the Soviet Union, the U.S. and the major European imperialist powers have assumed they could devour the remains of the former Soviet republics, rich in oil and other natural resources, as well as the countries of Eastern Europe, without meeting any serious resistance. The events of the past few weeks have put an end to that dream.

World events have come full circle since capitalist pundits declared themselves forever triumphant and proclaimed the “end of history.” The “end of history” chapter of imperialism’s history book just got cut.

The capitalist economic crisis should and will direct more attention to the reality that the world imperialist system has reached such an advanced yet destructive and paralytic phase that very little can be accomplished that really serves society. Has it ever been more crystal clear that all progress, including saving the ecology of the planet, is premised on consigning imperialism to history and commencing socialist transformation?

The interconnectedness of every aspect of maintaining life on earth has never been more apparent. Clearly, while people will fight to transform the conditions where they live, ultimately there will be no national or regional solution to the crisis of the world. The solution must be global.

But the political consciousness, organization and preparedness of the working class, its organizations and the revolutionary movement are not yet on a par with world developments.

Who will respond to economic crisis?

The ranks of the communist and socialist movement are far too small, fragmented and lacking in influence within the working class. The movement is not oriented towards the mass of the workers—in some cases it is distinctly oriented away from the working class, particularly the most oppressed sections.

One can go to any number of important demonstrations, marches or meetings concerned with an array of critical issues and organized by hardworking activists and find that the biggest economic crisis of capitalism in 75 years is not likely to be on the agenda, except perhaps in some narrow and limited way. Yet the capitalists are both preoccupied with and genuinely frightened by the crisis.

Most events, like the political movement itself, are issue oriented as opposed to ideologically oriented. While it is necessary for activists to organize around concrete issues, the problem is that the issues are seldom viewed in a larger ideological context.

There seems to be a great distance between the severity of the capitalist economic crisis and the capacity of revolutionary and progressive activists and forces to comprehend what’s happening and do anything about it.

At the moment, the organized labor movement in the U.S., its leadership in particular, is putting a lot of resources and hope into the outcome of the presidential elections. It is not prepared to mount a real struggle against the attacks on the working class that the crisis will generate like waves, each wave bigger and more destructive than the last one.

It would be wrong to place the blame on the many activists and militants within the working-class movement who are trying to make a difference under difficult circumstances.

Understanding the history of the development of the working class in the U.S. and what events affected that history is essential to an understanding of why the working-class movement is not yet up to the task, and why the working class is still in the process of becoming conscious of itself as a class.

What made U.S. imperialism so strong

World events and economic developments have actually come full circle over a larger time period than 20 years. It is more instructive to go back to the middle of the 20th century, when U.S. imperialism emerged victorious from World War II as the undisputed leader and center of world imperialism.

The end of that war marked the real beginning of U.S. imperialism’s world reign. The problems and contradictions that have frustrated the political development of the working class and its organizations in the U.S. can be traced to the beginning of this reign.

The most revolutionary and militant communists and socialists who fought in the battles of the 1930s believed that out of the working class upsurges sparked by the worldwide capitalist depression would come the opportunity for the working class to make great gains and even seize political power away from the bosses—yes, even in the U.S.

The capitalist ruling classes got themselves out of the crisis of the thirties through fascism and war in much of Europe and war and reforms in the U.S. After the war, the revolutionary struggle continued in the East and among the colonized peoples of the world, but, in relative terms, it ebbed in the West, especially in the U.S.

U.S. imperialism accumulated enough wealth by looting the colonized and semi-colonized peoples and nations of the world to use a little of that stolen wealth to create the illusion that the U.S. was different than any other country.

As the myth goes, the U.S. was now a prosperous, middle-class society where the need for workers to wage class struggle against capitalism was no longer necessary. As long as you weren’t Black or Brown—and of course women had to stay “in their place”—you could do well for yourself, and your children could do even better.

Before long, the tremendous working-class struggles of the thirties that had expanded the right to unionize and had won Social Security, the minimum wage and other reforms were all but forgotten—with the help of the ruling class, of course. Anti-communism, racism and reaction rendered most of the leadership of the organized labor movement loyal to the system.

The Reagan/Thatcher era

In a different kind of way, this process, which resulted in a weakening of the working class, repeated itself a generation ago. By the late 1970s, U.S. imperialism, dogged by a long post-Vietnam War economic crisis, decided that restructuring the economy, including the introduction of new technology into the production process, would get them out of the crisis. Doing this would necessitate a new, wide-scale and brutal assault on the working class, starting with the strongest unions.

It needed a sharp right-wing, anti-worker shift in U.S. and world politics. Hence, the Ronald Reagan era. Sometimes it’s called the Reagan/Thatcher era, referring to both Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, the prime minister of Britain during the 1980s.

Reagan, as the principal representative of U.S. imperialism, was infinitely more powerful than Thatcher. But they became linked by their common anti-worker, anti-union, anti-communist agenda, particularly their dedication to destroying the Soviet Union.

In the U.S., the Reagan anti-union offensive reached a new level of seriousness when he fired nearly 12,000 striking air traffic controllers in 1981. That was only the beginning of the onslaught that robbed hundreds of thousands of auto, steel and other unionized workers of their hard-won benefits and jobs.

Notwithstanding some heroic struggles that workers mounted during the 1980s and 1990s in self-defense, overall the working class was not yet ready to prevail in the war being waged against them by capital.

It would have required a high level of political consciousness and preparedness on the part of the working class, and seasoned leadership free of ties to the system, to mount the kind of struggle that might have stopped the anti-worker offensive. Capitalism’s victory over the working class at home set the stage for counterrevolution in the Soviet Union and elsewhere.

Since that time, capitalism and imperialism have been on the offensive. Over 90 percent of the people on the planet, who are workers and oppressed peoples, have been losing ground.

Up until now, strength, power, force and victory have been on the side of U.S. imperialism and its capitalist ruling class.

Need for solidarity with most oppressed

It’s the impact of this imbalance that is principally responsible for the political weakness, fragmentation and demoralization that are to a greater or lesser extent a factor challenging revolutionary and progressive forces.

Every capitalist crisis raises critical theoretical questions for serious Marxists. Experience had shown a long time before the capitalist depression of the 1930s that, if allowed the opportunity, capitalism had the ability to find its way out of a crisis.

Moreover, every crisis, even the big ones, doesn’t necessarily get transformed by the workers and their organizations into revolutionary opportunities. In the wake of defeats, the necessity for critical analysis can become supplanted by a very subjective cynicism, pessimism and doubt.

The biggest casualty of such a development is the erosion of solidarity.

Imagine on this third anniversary of the Katrina/Rita hurricane what the response might have been to the government’s calculated racist non-response if the working class movement had been stronger, more revolutionary and keenly aware that an injury to one is an injury to all.

Imagine what the working class and progressive forces could, should and ultimately must be doing to stop the war that is being waged by the government and racist thugs against immigrant workers.

Revolutionaries can, under the right conditions, turn what they imagine into a reality. Conditions will increasingly favor a fightback.

New opportunities for struggle

Events have now pushed the historic pendulum away from imperialism and towards the working class.

The present world economic and political crisis is going to change everything. It is already transforming the consciousness of larger and larger sections of the working class in ways that will astonish us all.

What will the workers do this time? Will they fight back? The most meaningful response for revolutionary and progressive activists is to ask themselves: What will we do as activists? Will we wait for others to take on this struggle? Will we conclude that there is nothing we can do?

Activists cannot substitute themselves for the masses of workers. But activists can, if they have the political will, help forge a working-class fightback. If ever there was a time for boldness, for imagination, for confidence, now is such a time.

What will be the role of politically conscious activists in responding to the crisis this time? The answer is bound to be decisive. All that remains is to find out how the movement can move things forward. What will it take, what is it that’s most important to understand? All who are serious will find the answers.

Larry Holmes is a member of the Secretariat of Workers World Party.

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