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Issue #1619      November 20, 2013

The deepening crisis of capitalism

Speech by Bob Briton, General Secretary, Communist Party of Australia, at the 15th International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties, Lisbon, November 8-10, 2013

The crisis of capitalism has not abated. Despite assurances from authorities in the US and other imperialist centres to the contrary, the severe economic downturn continues to deepen and it is the people who are being forced to pay the price of capitalist attempts at recovery. “Austerity” has become the byword of governments dancing to the tune of the big banks and winding back the role and responsibilities of states to provide for the well-being of their people. Further spending cuts and privatisation of public assets are being demanded of governments by supra-national financial institutions. People’s saving are being raided to bail out banks guilty of the theft of the wealth of whole nations. People’s rights to defend themselves against injustice are being curtailed and, once again, fascist organisations are being readied to shore up capitalism and divert the disaffected from turning to the socialist alternative.

Commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Álvaro Cunhal, General Secretary of the PCP during the fascist period. (Photo: Bob Briton)

This is the nightmare scenario facing the people of large sections of the world’s population, even in formerly, relatively wealthy countries such as those of Europe. neo-liberal policies have left governments with fewer levers to deal with aspects of the “bust” phase of the business cycle. Lower corporate and personal taxes and the sale of public enterprises have depleted the reserves previously available for “pump-priming” or stimulating the domestic economy.

“Free” trade agreements designed to aid transnational monopoly interests further restrict the options open to national governments to protect jobs and even whole industries. The austerity measures have a contractionary impact on economies, deepening the crisis and setting governments up to fail. Where is all of this heading? Already bankers have been brought in to head several European governments. Will the next step be to sovereign bankruptcies and the direct takeover and running of governments by transnational corporations – overt dictatorship of capital. Governments have already contracted out many of their functions and operations, why stop at that and not privatise the whole of government? Deregulation has considerably eroded the sovereignty and powers of the state.

Stripping back

Workers, pensioners and other vulnerable people in developed countries are being prepared for a stripping back of social conditions to something like the level imposed on the peoples of developing capitalist countries. The treatment of workers, pensioners and other less privileged people in the UK, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and elsewhere is a clear warning. Alternatives to the “haircut” inflicted on the victims of capitalist crisis are attacked by the media-industrial complex and kept away from the people who might benefit.

The process of capitalist globalisation has not lifted millions out of poverty as was once claimed by the triumphalists who celebrated the demise of the USSR and East European socialist countries. What it has done is to push workers who once enjoyed the benefits of the long post-World War II boom into a new situation of insecurity and declining living conditions.

Ruling circles are not only convinced that they must act to defend their power and interests. They also believe the time is ripe to press ahead and use the crisis to take back hard won gains made by the working class over more than a century of struggle. They have declared that “the age of entitlement” is over, that governments cannot afford or should not be providing social security and other services as in the past.

The absence of the former socialist countries has removed considerable pressure on them to at least provide some of the benefits that workers in socialist countries received. The take-back is on in a big way, with the aim of driving wages, working conditions and living standards down to the lowest common denominator on a global basis with workers pitted against each other on a global labour market. Cheap labour from the poorer countries is being imported like a commodity to be exploited at far higher rates than local labour in the richer nations. The “third world” countries continue to be subjected to imperialist wars, carved up and plundered, their lands stolen, their peoples dispossessed and millions still subjected to abject poverty without basic needs being met.

Trade unions are historically weaker in a number of countries, including Australia. Many have completely abandoned class struggle and see their role as offering a service rather than organising workers to advance their interests against the capitalists that exploit them or electing social democrat governments. Individualism has been successfully fostered, with young people in particular encouraged to shun membership of organisations and collectivism. Racism, xenophobia and anti-Muslim attitudes have been promoted to split the working class and divert attention from the real causes of people’s hardships.

Legislation ushered in, in the guise of preventing terrorism following the September 11 attacks in the US has been used to deal with dissent. A new wave of destruction of protections under the law is underway in many countries. Intelligence agencies spy on their own people, the people of other countries and governments, both friend and foe. People resisting and exposing these realities, such as WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, have been hounded into virtual imprisonment or exile.

The escalation of the imperialist offensive

US imperialism has not left off its drive for global dominance. In fact, the looming eclipse of global economic dominance by the US and the decline of its currency as the world’s reserve currency has added a sense of greater urgency to achieve different regional targets. Destabilisation, drone attacks and proxy wars have been added to the armoury of the US as the limitations of their capacity for direct invasion become clear.

The tactic of regime change via “colour revolutions” has been enhanced with the insertion of ruthless mercenaries, the imposition of blockades and, where possible, a “no-fly” zone. The tactic was successful in the case of Libya but has fallen short of its objectives in Syria. The US has not “won the peace” in Afghanistan and the contradictions are mounting as it attempts to exploit Muslim extremists to destabilise governments and terrorise populations while at the same time continuing its support for Zionist expansion.

Access to or control of the Middle East’s oil reserves may be a less pressing short-term goal given the development of non-conventional gases in the US but it remains a major determinant of foreign policy. Iran is still on the short list of regimes to be overthrown.

The US has not let up in its plans to overturn progressive governments in Latin America. The passing of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was a crucial test of strength for forces wishing to continue the Bolivarian Revolution towards socialism and those aligned to US interests. Attempts to intimidate other progressive governments, such as those of Bolivia and Ecuador, have become more outrageous. The socialist Republic of Cuba remains a prime target of US ambitions, its illegal blockade remains despite UN General Assembly resolutions calling for it to be lifted. The international campaign to free the Cuban Five is gaining in strength, including inside the US, but their freedom has still to be won.

The major shift in US policy in recent times is known as the “Pivot” to the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions. The clear objective of this shift in military priorities is to contain the growing influence of the People’s Republic of China and accelerate war preparations against it. Investment by Chinese companies is on the rise worldwide and has seen dramatic growth in Latin America, South-East Asia and Africa in recent times. The creation of the US Africom Unified Combatant Command in 2006 must be seen in this context.

A major expansion of military bases in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions is underway. A new base for the rotation of US Marines was created at Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory following a visit by US President Barack Obama to Australia in 2011. Australia is already host to more than 30 US bases or military facilities. Australia’s military spending has increased considerably in recent years with the acquisition of hugely expensive non-defensive military equipment from the US.

The integration of Australia’s military with the US war machine continues. Military spending has been effectively quarantined from the cuts that health, education and other services are experiencing. Budget cuts have obliged federal governments to conceal the size of their military commitment which is opposed by an estimated 70 percent of the Australian population. The lifting of the ban on US and Australia uranium exports to India because of its failure to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is part of this diplomatic offensive.

The US has supported violent separatist movements in China, carried on a media campaign about human rights “abuses”, aggravated tensions over disputed islands with its neighbours and in every way possible sought to contain and destabilise the country. While they persist with all these tactics they have clearly failed and so a military “solution” is being prepared. The destruction of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is part of this drive.

The realignment of forces on the international level

As mentioned, the US economy has continued its precipitous decline and the role of its currency as the world reserve is being challenged. Countries around the world see this weakness and are considering alternatives. The countries of the BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa] grouping have been considering an alternative. ALBA in Latin America has already instituted a trading currency called the Sucre. Libya’s late leader Muammar Gaddafi was gathering support for an African currency based on gold when he was deposed and assassinated by the imperialists.

For all these economic difficulties, the US continues to fund the world’s biggest military machine by far. It has managed to keep NATO in its orbit even while political pressures within member countries have toned down the bellicosity of the language in support of US military adventures. The chaos left in the wake of the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan has undermined what little public support existed for such attacks excused, as they were, in part by a desire to install “democratic” governments in those countries. The Japanese government remains loyal to the strategic aims of the US and has changed the character of its armed forces even further away from the defensive role demanded at their surrender at the end of World War II.

The alternative economic formations have strengthened their position relative to US imperialism in the recent period and this has had consequences for the ability of the US to assert its will. The position of Russia has been enhanced through its involvement with BRICS. The strength of its opposition has been vital to the survival of Syria in the face of the imperialists’ drive to smash it up.

The present situation does not necessarily improve conditions for peace. The US may respond to developments with acts of desperation. The threat with most potential for devastation involves attacks on the People’s Republic of China. While the US economy is now dependent on trade with China and the Chinese government’s purchase of US treasury bonds, US imperialism does not tolerate rivals. It is aware that the privileged position of the US in the post-WW2 world economy relies on absolute military supremacy to enforce the dominance of US corporations.

The role of the working class and the Communists’ tasks

With such destructive forces at work in the world, the tasks of the working class and the Communists have become even more urgent. The choice between socialism or barbarism has become stark. The urgency for measures to head off global warming and provide a sustainable environment for the peoples of the world has added another element of crisis to the present situation.

Circumstances vary greatly from country to country. Some peoples have a history of struggle against colonialism, the outlawing of the Communist Party, underground struggle against fascism and even civil war. Others have had decades of liberal bourgeois “democracy” and access to some benefits during the post-WW2 boom. Some have trade unions with class-conscious leaderships prepared to struggle for social advancement. Other countries have trade unions under the almost total sway of class-collaborationist social democrats.

There is no one formula for Communist parties that could be applied in all these differing conditions. There must be respect for the judgement of Communist parties to chart the way forward based on knowledge drawn from intimate involvement in the struggles of their working class and other exploited people. Some parties are in a more leading position of the organisations of their respective working classes than others.

In Australia our Party needs to build its numbers and fighting capacity rapidly to meet the challenges described above. It must work at building left and progressive alliances in the course of defending the interests of working people that are under a concerted attack. We cannot wait until we have sufficient strength to go it alone in these battles. Parties in other countries may well be in a position to do so but not in Australia.

While Communist and workers parties work in very different social, economic and political circumstances, they do operate in an increasingly globalised context. The sharing of experiences and, especially, the development of solidarity actions remain high priorities. The opportunity presented by the International Meetings of Communist and Workers Parties is invaluable. Unity in action around agreed objectives should be preserved and enhanced greatly in the challenging period ahead.

Next article – TPP: US reasserts its role as world’s bully

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