International contradictions and our fight for proletarian power
Let’s begin by looking at the position of US imperialism. It is the world’s strongest military and political power; for the moment, no other imperialism can take its place in the exercise of global leadership. Nevertheless, it has entered the period of its own decline and is in trouble economically. It has not yet fully recovered from the Global Financial Crisis and there is certainly no sense of a new golden age of economic growth and expansion. The sentiment associated with this in popular terms is expressed in Trump’s campaign call to “make America great again”.
A comrade has recommended I read David Kilcullen’s book Blood Year. Kilcullen is an Australian pro-imperialism anti-terror strategist and political adviser who has worked at senior levels of the Australian and US states. He traces a shift in US strategy from what he calls “aggregation” (lumping all opponents together, declaring war on all of them, Bush’s “You’re either with us or against us”) to “disaggregation”. The latter term means something like our “narrowing the target” – separating out its opponents so as not to have to deal with everything and everyone at once. From this follows the Obama initiatives of a sort of reconciliation with Cuba and the nuclear deal struck with Iran (now officially designated a “competitor” rather than an “enemy” in the “Axis of Evil”) – initiatives inconceivable under Bush; of increased reliance on the military collusion and cooperation of the “international community” of secondary level Western imperialist powers together with developed second world nations such as Canada, New Zealand and Australia; and of the encouragement of proxies to secure US imperialism’s goals in regional conflicts. The latter range from openly terrorist factions in the Middle East, and Syria in particular; and of the Saudis, Quataris and other Sunni ruling classes.
The strategy of disaggregation has allowed the US to distance itself somewhat from current theatres of conflict and to buy itself some breathing space as it tries to maintain full spectrum domination in the face of global recognition that it is in decline. With no-one to whom it can easily pass its baton, US imperialism will eventually run out of options under its strategy of disaggregation. The more it declines, the greater will be the necessity for it to lash out with new aggressions directly or indirectly against those rivals unwilling to be integrated within a global order dominated by yesterday’s hero.
Russia and China both fall into this category and have the military strength, including nuclear capability, to challenge the US on its preferred turf: war. Each is characterised in US-led media discourse as “increasingly expansionist” – Russia in relation to Crimea and the Ukraine, and China in relation to the South China Sea. Such a characterisation is typical of US imperialism’s preparation of public opinion for war. US preparations on the ground include the quadrupling of US/NATO troops and weapons on the north-western borders of Russia, announced on February 2 and including an increasing number of formerly socialist countries such as Romania; and its continuing build-up in the Pacific where Australia and Japan are expected to help contain the power and influence of China.
On a lower plane, less likely to be military opponents of the US, but susceptible to the subversion and destabilisation of “colour revolution” and “regime change” internal opposition movements financed and supported by US imperialism are key members with Russia and China of the BRICS grouping. Attempts will be made through “soft tactics” to prise India and South Africa away from BRICS, while Brazil is currently facing a textbook case of constitutional coup d’etat with moves to impeach the left social democrat Rousseff demanded by middle class and wealthy Brazilians. The destabilisation of Rousseff’s government aims to destroy the emerging integration of what can loosely be called anti-imperialist governments that have appeared in parts of Latin America. It also aims to further moves towards privatisation in Brazil of its state-owned oil company Petrobras and of the Bank of Brazil and the postal services.
The African continent is assuming growing importance in imperialist considerations. The US has massive AFRICOM commitments with troop deployments, bases, and military exercises with 53 African nations. AFRICOM has at least three main objectives: to respond with intimidation and threat to growing ties between China and Africa; to strike with force and violence against anti-Western terrorists now operating in places like Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Sudan, Senegal, Nigeria, Morocco and Somalia, and to coordinate with allies such as Britain and France where this can be achieved; and to secure African resources, and especially energy resources, for US needs. French imperialism continues to operate in a military capacity in several African nations, whilst China has economic initiatives at its disposal and has participated in naval operations against piracy in the waters off the Horn of Africa.
Presently, resistance to imperialism and to capitalist crisis is fragmented. The place of a dominant, unifying anti-imperialist ideology has been overshadowed by the capitalist and imperialist ideologies of social democracy, revisionism and the reactionary outlook of fundamentalist Islam. These ideologies are the products of monopoly capital’s imperialist economic imperatives and ruthlessly imposed on the world by the US, in particular. The particular brand of Islamic fundamentalist religious fascism was encouraged and nurtured by US imperialism as a counter to the Soviet presence in Afghanistan but then broke loose from its US backers and turned against them. Even so, US imperialism has given covert support to Islamic terrorists active in Libya and Syria, and turns a blind eye to the overt cooperation between Turkey and the Islamic State.
In spite of this, the proletarian ideology continues to exist in areas where reactionary Islamic fundamentalism is active but there is as yet nowhere that Marxism-Leninism is embraced as a successful alternative to the appeal of IS and related groups. In Syria, and amongst the Kurdish resistance, there are forces capable of growing and providing that alternative, and we can only hope that a resurgent genuine Left will bring unity and genuine leadership to the region. In the Philippines, the revolutionary forces led by the Marxist-Leninist Philippines Communist Party are expanding their significant mass base and political influence.
In Europe, there is a strong undercurrent of opposition to the austerity measures pursued by imperialist finance capital and the European bourgeoisies. Greece was recently witness to mass opposition to the privatisation measures pursued by Syriza and Tspiras. Needing some €86bn to pay off Greek debt, Tsipras, who still masquerades as leftist, even a Communist, has leased most regional airports to German company for €1.2bn, and last week, transferred ownership of the Port of Piraeus to China’s COSCO shipping company for €368m. These are the first two major privatisations under Syriza’s austerity regime but still leave Greece €84bn short of the amount it must raise through its reactionary sell-out program.
France has also seen some months of militant protests focussing on a reactionary piece of labour legislation featuring individual workplace agreements, reductions in redundancy pay, extensions in overtime hours, cuts in penalty rates and threats of higher unemployment. This has given rise to a movement not unlike the Occupy Movement where workers and students have taken over city squares, and linked struggles such as the Air France and Goodyear strikes to issues like education cuts and support for asylum seekers. This movement, Nuit Debout (“Arise at night”) continues as we meet, but must have the conscious leadership of a proletarian vanguard or eventually decline as spontaneity and “movementism” prove incapable of being self-sustaining. It is worth mentioning that the movement has broken out in reaction to measures introduced by a social democratic government on behalf of the French bourgeoisie.
There is spontaneous, and uneven, resistance to the tightening control and expansion of US imperialism parading under the guise of “trade” liberalisation – TPP, TTIP, TISA, driven by the US. The so-called “free trade” multilateral agreements are a higher concentration and monopolisation of global production, labour, markets, resources, by US imperialism.
The people’s resistance to US imperialist “free” trade agreements is strongest in Europe, Japan, Malaysia and New Zealand. It is characterised by calls to defend national sovereignty, people’s livelihoods, democracy and against austerity. The people’s resistance in these countries is strengthened by rivalries and competition between the different forces within monopoly capital’s class in the US and European Union, resulting in some temporary setbacks for US imperialism.
Alongside these welcome but isolated examples of working class resistance is the phenomenon of a revived European fascism. Golden Dawn in Greece, Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, and the various fascist groupings in the Ukraine all have support within the working classes of those countries. Together with Donald Trump in the US, they espouse anti-foreigner racism and anti-free trade populism. They tap into the spontaneous class consciousness of disenfranchised and marginalised workers. We need to study this phenomenon which is bound to grow beyond Reclaim Australia and other, for the moment, tiny groups here.
The above sketches out something of the current international political landscape. The international economic landscape is no less complex and confusing. We are in a period, following the 2008 global recession, of very low to negative interest rates which have failed to stimulate capitalist economies as planned; and of a minor retreat by finance capital from the speculation of derivatives back to the safety and security of government bond issues. In neither case is capitalist industry, the productive sector of the economy and the home and condition for the existence of the proletarian class being supported by finance capital.
We now have central banks in four European economies—the Eurozone, Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark—with negative interest rates. In Asia, Japan has had negative interest rates since January. Interest rates elsewhere are at record low levels and there are signs that even more central banks may go negative. Negative interest rates are meant to be inflationary for the same reason that the printing of paper money is inflationary. Both are ways of putting a greater quantity of money into circulation without a corresponding increase in the value of goods in the market place. If a central bank lends a dollar to a commercial or merchant bank at a negative interest rate of minus one percent, then instead of getting an interest payment back from the borrower, the central bank has pay the borrower one cent in negative interest. Quantitative easing was the cute name for printing money and is just as applicable to negative interest rates.
Inflation leads to an increase in prices, but this has not happened with either form of quantitative easing. And it is a sign of some degree of awareness by finance capital that there is no recovery in sight that speculative capital is leaving the Over the Counter (OTC) derivatives market and heading to safer havens. According to the Bank of International Settlements: “The notional amount of outstanding contracts fell by 11% between end-June 2015 and end-December 2015, from $552 trillion to $493 trillion. Trade compression to eliminate redundant contracts was a key driver. The fall in notional amounts was accompanied by a sharp drop in the gross market value of outstanding derivatives contracts, which provides a more meaningful measure of amounts at risk. Gross market values decreased by 6% between end-June 2015 and end-December 2015, from $15.5 trillion to $14.5 trillion, their lowest level since 2007.”
Capitalism is not on the verge of collapse, but it is staggering along in a prolonged no-growth phase and capitalism without growth is unsustainable. Turnbull has tapped into a real fear shared by foreign and local corporations in Australia when he promises “growth and jobs”. “Growth” is what all capitalists expect governments, their own executive committees, to provide for in legislation and policy. To over-produce in a no-growth economy creates that crisis of overproduction that Marxists believe to be the Achilles heel of capitalism.
Comrades, it is hard to discern at the international level how the contradictions besetting imperialism and the people’s movements will play out in the immediate future. There is the threat of war and of fascism. There is ongoing economic crisis and resistance to that. It places renewed responsibility on those here who support a revolutionary movement to keep abreast of developments and to deepen understanding of how contradictions emerge, develop and move towards their opposites, of what can be identified within a complex situation as the principal determinants of the historical process.
Immersing the ideology and practice of Marxism-Leninism in the struggles of the people will deepen the understanding and the development of Australia’s anti-imperialist proletarian revolution.
We need everyone to contribute what they can to our collective understanding of change in the world, change for a future that places power in the hands of the proletarian class.