Capitalism in crisis, new times for socialism
Workers' Party of Belgium (PTB)
Contribution to the 15th International Meeting of Communist and Workers' Parties
Lisbon, 8-10 November 2013
- Capitalism has known three global and systemic crises. The first, at the end of the 19th century, was countered by imperialism and war for the redivision of the world – but this was also followed by the bolchevik revolution and the birth of the Soviet Union. The second, in the 1930s, led to the Second World War and the rise of US imperialism – but also to the extension of the socialist camp and to a wave of national liberation struggles. The third and current crisis of overproduction and capital over-accumulation has its origins in the early 1970s. It had been dampened by several decades of neoliberal policies, of new opportunities for big capital upon the counterrevolution in the Soviet Union and the European people's democracies, of intensified exploitation of the Third World through Structural Adjustment Programs and the debt burden, and by artificial consumer spending through cheap credit. But the crisis exploded fully since the bursting of the financial and housing bubbles in 2008.
- Today we are confronted with its dire consequences in the economic, social and ecological fields. At par with this economic crisis is a democratic and ideological crisis in bourgeois society. And at the international level, there are important changes in the correlation of forces and new threats and of local conflicts and wider wars have become apparent.
- Five years after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers that brought the world financial system to the brink of collapse, the false idea persists that this was a financial crisis. The opposite is true: the widespread financial doping had temporarily masked the true character of this severe disease of capitalism, the disease of overproduction, that only came to light with the bursting of the financial bubble. But overproduction is of course situated in the realm of production, in the very core of the capitalist system. That is why neither a neoliberal nor a keynesian response can solve the current crisis and eradicate its root causes. Two scenarios are possible for the near future: either a double dip with a rapid further decline of the economy, or a longer period of relative economic stagnation based on an ever more intensive exploitation of the labour force.An important factor in today's world constellation is the position of the world's hegemonic imperialist power, the United States. While politically the US can claim to be the only superpower, having concluded the Cold War to its advantage and having taken advantage from 9/11 to reaffirm its military dominance, economically the US is in dire straits. The US economy continues to live beyond its means thanks to massive foreign credit and thanks to the dollar's status as world prime currency. But sooner or later, the strongly negative balance of trade and balance of payments will take their toll and diminish the US' stature in the world – or push it to even more aggressive military adventures against previously existing or recently emerging competitors.
- The crisis of the euro zone reveals a complete unbalanced European construction, with the uneven development of capitalism in the EU member states and no mechanisms in place to remedy this through transfers from the more developed regions to the less developed ones. To the contrary, the major European capitalist economies are involved in a race among themselves to become the biggest exporter and, therefore, the harshest exploiter. Which entails a race to the bottom regarding unemployment, working conditions, flexibility, contractualization, social and trade union rights, and finally also regarding democratic rights. The economic and social crisis in the euro zone can lead to further social upheavals and major political crises, which may result in serious troubles throughout the euro zone and even in its explosion.
- But yet the very crisis of the euro zone has pushed the European bourgeoisie to accelerate the construction of the European supra-national State, the European Union, in a more and more authoritarian way. Because the European transnational corporations desperately need an infrastructure and a superstructure capable of waging economic war – and, later on, possibly real war – against the US, Japan and the emerging economies, and against its own working class. Since 2010, the EU has advanced much faster in the direction of a centralized federal European State, particularly with the budgetary treaty (the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance or TSCG), which gives the European Commission not only the right to intervene in member State's fiscal and economic policies, but also in its social policies, imposing competitiveness in the economic sphere and eternal austerity in the social sphere.
- Because the European Union only serves the interests of European big capital and is based on competition and inequality, it has to be challenged in its core and not at its margins. Major popular movements with a revolutionary orientation will be necessary throughout the continent for the workers and peoples to turn their back to the construction of this supra-national bourgois state and build a Europe based on solidarity and cooperation, a socialist Europe.
- In the world correlation of forces, new players have come to the fore, the more important among them having been erroneously lumped together under the acronym BRICS. During the past five years of crisis in the 'old world', they have acted as a strong and counterbalancing motor of growth, which is different from the situation pertaining in the 1930s. But the motor of the BRICS is also starting to sputter. More importantly, the fact of contesting the economic hegemony of the US and the other major imperialist powers doesn't make the emerging economies anti-imperialist. For uneven development is a basic feature of capitalism and imperialism. The growth in strength and influence of the BRICS countries could only acquire an anti-imperialist character if it were to challenge the foundations of the imperialist world order, break with the world capitalist accumulation and contribute to the liberation of the worlds workers and peoples from the yoke of big capital. Instead, in most cases their success rather seems to stem from a competition to obtain a better place in the world capitalist system. As to alliances of countries that aim to radically break with imperialist domination as was the case in the 1960s and 1970s, today it is hard to see any comparable and genuinely anti-imperialist alliance, apart from the ALBA in Latin America and the Carribean, centered around socialist Cuba and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
- The People's Republic of China constitutes a particular case. It still affirms to be on the path of socialism, and while it has adopted many characteristics of a market economy – and while itself defining its economy as a “socialist market economy” – strong State intervention in the economy remains. But it cannot be denied that capitalist elements in the domestic economy are already creating typical problems such as a housing bubble and a mini credit crisis. Internationally, China's economy is intensely linked to those of the US and Europe, and has to conform to the laws of the international capitalist market, often to the detriment of the workers and the people in the target countries.
- But it would be wrong to consider China for this reason alone as an imperialist country. The international agreements that China concludes on energy, raw materials and agricultural products broadly respect the principle of mutual advantage. Its development cooperation and agreements on trade and investments generally assist developing countries to build an infrastructure, to develop an industrial base and to accumulate capital with which an indepent course of development can be charted. China does not possess military bases abroad and does not threaten any country with intervention or aggression. Objectively, it offers third countries more possibilities to follow an anti-imperialist road.
- The systemic and prolonged character of the world capitalist crisis, the changes in the international correlation of forces and the examples of workers' and peoples' struggles and revolts around the world point to the growing opportunities for developing the forces of revolution against the forces of reaction, and for the growing confidence that in the course of the 21st century, we will see the advance of the only societal alternative to capitalism: socialism.