|For the International Symposium on Capitalist Crises and the Future of Socialism
Wadi'h Halabi; graphic design and partial content by Samia A. Halaby, October 2012
FIVE DIAGRAMS AND A QUESTION:
Capitalist Crises, Revolutions, and the Future of Humanity
Introduction: A general crisis of capitalism is unfolding now, the third great wave of crisis since 1900. Crises of the old system can open the door for a new, superior social system. This is the emphasis of this contribution. Furthermore, because capitalism threatens the social and environmental foundations for human existence, humanity’s future lies in completing the transition to socialism. Common preparation by Communist Parties is essential for the working class to lead the way.
This international symposium is therefore of great potential importance. Marxism is necessary to point humanity’s way forward.
Systemic crises bring pressures on all classes, even those that support the old system. The old ruling class, however, aims the greatest pressure on the potential new ruling class and its organizations – its parties, states and unions. Without preparation, systemic crises can result in severe defeats instead of historic victories.
The capitalist crises in 1900-1907 opened the path for the victory of the Russian Revolution in 1917. That victory was preceded by enormous ruling class pressures on the organizations of the working class. An unprepared Second (Socialist) International collapsed in 1914. Unions affiliated with the Second International had the power to shut Europe down – if they were united. The fall of the Second International made it possible for the capitalists to wage the first World War, the bloodiest in human history (until then). Essential to the Bolshevik victory was its leaders' Marxist analyses of the internal weaknesses that led to the defeat of the Paris Commune in 1871 and the collapse of the Second International in 1914.
Although US GDP was relatively stable until 2008, a strong argument can be made that the current crisis began no later than in 1980-1982. By 1992, an unprepared Soviet Union, and eleven similar states, had fallen to counter-revolution, the worst defeats in working class history. The Cuban state came under similar or greater pressures than the USSR, but did not fall.
The five diagrams that follow seek to provide a visual Marxist summary of the world economy since 1917, the stratification among capitalist countries with the USA on top, and the history of crises and revolutions since 1860. Two diagrams then image key factors in the collapse of the USSR and survival of the Cuban state. A final panel poses the question, 'What would a healthy state look like after a socialist revolution?'
The structure for a healthy unity of Communist and workers' Parties worldwide would follow guidelines similar to those for a healthy state after a socialist revolution. Introductions to each of six panels follow. Panels contain additional information.
Since 1917, one world economy has consisted of two interacting
and conflicting social systems.
“A single world economy” simply means that developments in one region inevitably and fairly quickly affect the rest of humanity, regardless of distance, physical or economic barriers – or differences in social systems. Changes in capitalist economies inevitably affected feudal economies, despite barriers the latter tried to erect against capitalism. Technological developments or crises under capitalism necessarily affect states formed by socialist (working class-led) revolutions.
There has effectively been a single world economy for about 500 years, with the consistent use of advances in navigation and shipbuilding (Columbus). The rise in the mid-1800s of the transcontinental railroad and the telegraph truly sealed the rise of a single world economy. Marx and Engels immediately grasped the significance of this development: now a world working class faced a world bourgeoisie, in effect, global class struggle. This led Marx and Engels to their organizational conclusion: Workers of the World, Unite!
The Russian Revolution, reinforced by the Chinese and other revolutions, marked qualitative changes in the global economy. Now two social systems, regulated internally by different laws and interests, were interacting and conflicting within the confines of a single world economy. This affects the operation of both systems.
Workers and our organizations in capitalist countries have the same basic interests as states formed by socialist revolutions. Exploiters worldwide have common basic interests opposed to those of workers.
The relative stability of US GDP from 1945 to 2008, and the collapse of the USSR, posed deep, 'twin challenges' to Marxism. These can only be resolved within the framework of two social systems and their states interacting and conflicting in the global class struggle. The economies formed by socialist revolutions are regulated above all by planning, and they are basically not boom-bust, and the real source of the relative stability from 1945 to 2008. But capitalism’s contradictions continued to rise. Capitalism destabilizes the world economy, including the states of the working class. Ultimately, only one class can rule the whole because of the profound conflicts in interests and mode of organization between the two systems, between world capitalism and the world working class.
Capitalist countries are stratified internationally, with US imperialism on top.
As mentioned earlier, US GDP was relatively stable from 1945 to 2008. But weaker states were not as stable, with many suffering severe crises, from Mexico and Argentina to most African countries and several Asian capitalist countries. The Soviet Union collapsed in this period. Thailand, Indonesia, s.Korea, Russia, Brazil were especially hard hit in 1997-98. Even Japan has essentially stagnated in the past two decades, with its industrial production faltering and its debts exploding.
Many Marxist theoreticians began to conclude from the relative US GDP stability that capitalism may have learned to regulate if not overcome its contradictions, for example through use of 'Keynesian mechanisms' or regulation of interest rates. Nothing could be further from the truth.
A purely secondary source of the relative US GDP stability came from the fact that world capitalism is stratified, with US imperialism on top, and the Congos, Haitis and Bangladeshes of the world on the bottom. Upper layers can push off their problems onto weaker states (including weaker states formed by socialist revolutions), while they suck profits and plunder them, for example through unequal exchange, speculation in oil, foods and currencies, and debt traps. The consistently-higher profit rates of US monopolies compared to those in lower layers reflects this stratification. Another reflection is that US still maintains forces of occupation in “rival” (“junior partner”) countries, such as Japan, Germany and the UK, more than sixty years after the end of World War II.
But the true source of any stability since 1945 were the non-boom-bust economies formed by socialist revolutions, including the USSR, Poland, GDR, etc. before their collapses, as well as China, Vietnam and the other three states formed by such revolutions and in existence today. Through its states, the working class holds more power than we sometimes realize.
Capitalist Crises, Wars and Revolutions, 1960s to present
Banking and external-debt crises in France in the 1860s impelled the ruling class into wars at home and abroad (in different forms). That set the stage for the rise of the Paris Commune, the first working class seizure of power in history.
Marxist analysis of that victory and the factors in the Commune's defeat made the next great victory possible, as capitalist crises roiled the world in the 1900s and 1910s. That victory of course was that of the Russian Revolution. It was preceded by terrible defeats, including the collapse of the Second International and World War One itself. The Russian Revolution was swiftly followed by the historic formation of the Communist International and Communist Parties worldwide, victory of revolution in Hungary in 1919, and a revolutionary upsurge in Germany, in the industrialized west. Both revolutions were ultimately defeated, opening the path for the rise of fascism. The USA emerged as the dominant capitalist power.
The next great wave of capitalist crises opens in the 1920s. A great revolutionary upsurge in China in 1927 met a bloody defeat, as did one in Spain in 1936. Crisis impelled imperial Japan's invasion of China in 1931. Capitalist countries often recorded annual declines approaching 15%. By contrast, the USSR had annual growth rates of 9% and 10% through the “Great Depression” years. Yet an unprepared Soviet state nearly collapsed when capitalist crisis arrived in the form of imperial armies in 1941. The Communist International was formally disbanded in 1943.
But the “Great” Depression and World War II also opened the door for the truly great Chinese Revolution, and revolutions from Albania and Yugoslavia to northern Korea and Vietnam.
Relative stability in capitalist countries followed WWII, in seeming contradiction of Marxist theory. In reality, an unstable equilibrium had temporarily developed between the two social systems. Capitalism's contradictions continued to mount in this period. After 1973, and especially after 1980, capitalism escalated its economic, military, cultural and other pressures on the USSR and allied states (Poland, GDR, etc.). An unprepared USSR and several other similar states collapsed, victims like the Second International of internal weaknesses, and unable to turn the crisis of capitalism into victories. The Cuban state remained standing, although it was damaged (and is not out of danger today).
Today, with capitalism worldwide in general crisis, economic, military and other pressures are mounting on China, People's Korea, Laos, Vietnam, and Cuba, and indeed all organization of the working class, including our Communist Parties and labor unions worldwide. The rest of this story is up to us.
The Soviet State, 1988
The USSR made extraordinary achievements in its 70+ years of existence, including nearly-full employment, housing and education for all, not to mention defeat of the imperialist attacks in World War II. In 1988, the USSR accounted for about 21% of world industrial and agricultural production, compared to about 23% for the US.
But the USSR suffered plenty of weaknesses, ranging from low productivity to weak currency and pricing mechanisms, shoddy consumer goods and services, and poor education in Marxism. In 1991, as Gorbachev tried to accommodate world capitalism, Boris Yeltsin seized the government offices in Moscow.
Yeltsin did not take over the Soviet Communist Party (he had resigned a few years earlier), nor did he take over the unions or the youth or equality organizations (such as for women, nationalities). Yeltsin proceeded to attack the achievements of the USSR, from full employment to wages and pensions, with the support of world imperialism. What happened to the labor unions? What happened to the Soviet army, sworn to defend socialism? What happened to CPSU, the Young Communist League, and Communist Parties and labor unions worldwide? This diagram attempts to focus attention on key weaknesses that prevented this great achievement of humanity from making even greater achievements, domestically and internationally.
The Cuban State, 1988
The Cuban state survived the same capitalist 'typhoon' that brought down the mighty USSR, even though it was much smaller and generally poorer.
This diagram points to strengths that contributed to the Cuban state's survival. Indications are that the state had a stronger and more conscious social base among workers than was the case with the Soviet state. For historical reasons, unions in Cuba were stronger and more effective, and enjoyed some separation from government-Party. There was also a healthy relative separation between women's federations and government-Party, achieved in part by releasing cadre from Party discipline (not guidance) when working within the federations. This strengthened the Party, the federations, and consequently the state as a whole.
Government and Party were entwined in Cuba, a weakness, as it clearly was in the USSR. The government should be organizing economic development and defense against capitalism, domestically and internationally. The Party should be focused on the general and historic interests of the working class. The tasks are not in opposition to each other, but neither are they identical. The government should respect the principle of non-interference. The Party's guiding principle is advancing humanity's transition to socialism, and addressing both the domestic and international tasks required by this responsibility, ranging from education in Marxism to conscious organization.
What Would a Healthy State Look Like?
This panel offers some basic guidelines and raises for discussion – What would a healthy state structure look like after a socialist revolution?
It is important to note that healthy unity of world Communist Parties would follow similar guidelines. This includes encouragement of relative separation of individual parties, combined with development of periodic harmonizing mechanisms to balance tasks and limitations of individual parties, and development of mutual aid and common programs and policies (albeit generally not tactics). This helps set conditions for a resilient world movement with multiple strengths, and a strong, respected leadership able to move rapidly when necessary.
Here too, organization of individual Parties can only be as effective as the corresponding, conscious direction from below. Education in Marxism, an activist science, is essential. Two-way communication between leadership and base needs to be prompt and effective, with neither too little nor too much information. Again, special measures need to be taken to align the interests to leaders and base, ranging from limits on leaders’ salaries to periodic rotation of leadership.
[End; six panels are attached]