First published: October 2004 (pamphlet)
The European Social Forum and the struggle for socialism
The European Social Forum (ESF) and the World Social Forum (WSF) are today the largest and broadest international movements against social injustice and neo-liberal capitalism. Socialist Action supports both.
The ESF, in addition to its fundamental goal of social justice, particularly embodies key steps forward that Socialist Action has championed for years.
• The movement is international. Those fighting for social justice have international interests, the enemy is organised internationally, and therefore so must be the movement for social justice.
• The movement supports independent organisation of women, black people, gays and lesbians, religious groups, those seeking to protect the environment, and all those fighting social, cultural and political oppression.
• The necessary diversity in the movement means that the struggle must be organised democratically – otherwise it cannot arrive at common positions and its unity be maintained.
These correspond to the fact that Socialist Action rejects any view that social struggle is exclusively around economic issues. The most advanced form of social struggle is political not economic.
Indeed, even after the elimination of the capitalist economy, a prolonged social struggle will be necessary to eliminate inequality, sexism, racism, xenophobia, and all discrimination. The state in such a society must be used to promote this social organisation, and not to suppress or control it – as occurs under capitalism.
Socialist Action has two significant differences with many in the ESF over the role of politics and the length of the struggle we face.
• Socialist Action is clear that if political power is left in the hands of the capitalist class, and the movement for social justice organises only at the level of the social, economic, and ideological, the capitalists will inevitably use their political power to crush and/or disorient the movement. While the movement for social justice can itself be organised at the social level, nevertheless political organisation, separate from but supporting the movement, is required to secure its goals. The political struggle will eventually be decisive.
• The struggle for social justice will be long and difficult and is fought for the highest possible stakes – the lives of billions of people, with an impact on every person on the planet. The reason for the length of the struggle is that the movement for social justice must take into account not only its own strength but that of its enemies. The capitalist enemy is powerful, ruthless, and there is no crime to which it will not resort. The capitalist class is, therefore, capable of great resistance and the struggle against it will be very protracted and serious. That is the perspective in which preparations to fight for social justice must be made.
The aim of this pamphlet is to examine how to advance most effectively the entire ESF and WSF. A key first issue is to assess accurately the general international situation – as this determines many immediate issues of tactics, strategy and approach.
2. The present international political situation
The effect of the Iraq war, continued resistance to the occupation of that country, the international movement against the war, and the impact of these within many individual countries today dominate world politics. However, this immediate political situation rests on, and sums up, a number of long-term economic, social and political trends.
• The global capitalist economy has been slowing for thirty years. Each international business cycle in this period has seen lower growth than the one before. This continuing slowdown does not eliminate periods of growth within business cycles. But it does mean there is no immediate perspective of international capitalism returning to the type of almost universal and harmonious economic growth seen in, for example, the post-World War II period prior to 1973.
• Capitalist society, internationally and in almost all individual countries, is creating deeper and deeper social polarisation. Internationally, inequality has reached the widest point in human history. In large areas of Africa, as well as parts of Asia and Latin America, social disintegration, with all its consequences, is deepening. In Britain, as in most developed capitalist countries, all the trends towards greater equality that appeared in the post-World War II period have been reversed and inequalities in incomes and conditions of life are growing.
• At the social level, the proletarianisation of the world continues with the creation of huge new working classes in China, India, South East Asia and Latin America. Simultaneously, soon and for the first time in human history, the majority of the world’s population will live in cities and towns. Within the advanced capitalist economies this proletarianisation continues via the widespread entry of women into paid work, the transformation of previously self-employed occupations into wage labour, the further contraction of the numbers of farmers, and the penetration of big capital into restaurant, shopping and other service sectors of the economy, simultaneously with the expansion of the latter at the expense of manufacturing.
• On an ideological level, in the late 1980s and early 1990s capitalism attempted to project a triumphalist perspective of universal acceptance of its values. In its most extreme form ‘the end of history’ was proclaimed. These assertions were, however, significantly weakened in their mass impact by the overt economic problems that appeared in the late 1990s with the South East Asian debt crisis, and weakened further by the Iraq war. The international movement for social justice, publicly gathered in the ESF and the WSF, has become the most widely organised and publicised alternative to the capitalist project, while in certain parts of the world forces are also fighting against the effects of neo-liberalism under the banner of religious, Marxist, environmentalist, patriotic or other views.
• Confronted with opposition to deteriorating social conditions, and challenges to its ideological hegemony, capitalism is rehabilitating the most extreme reactionary ideologies and political movements – above all racism and, among certain layers, fascism. Racist hysteria against asylum seekers and other victims of capitalist exploitation pervades the mass media. The extreme right has become a significant force in most European countries. Attempts to ‘humanise’ even such figures as Hitler are pursued. The present aim of this is not to install fascist rule but to attempt to gain the support of the population in the advanced capitalist countries for wars such as that in Iraq, to ‘dehumanise’ those who will be killed in large numbers by such assaults, and to prevent the majority of the population in the economically advanced countries seeing in capitalism the real source of their problems. Such racist filth, an open denial of the equality and equal rights of all humanity, corrupts society to its foundations and also undermines the basis of any rational scientific thought.
This world situation therefore poses those who opposed the Iraq war, and the supporters of the ESF, with major policy questions. Discussions and differences on these are inevitable as the movement develops. But because of the enormously high stakes involved, nothing must be allowed to disrupt the unity in action of the movement. This pamphlet aims to contribute to this debate within that framework.
3. The war in Iraq and its aftermath
A key question the ESF must explicitly address is the assessment of the general international situation. What is the overall international relation of social forces? Who is on the offensive and who is on the defensive? What is the current trajectory and possibilities of the struggle? The answers, explicit or implicit, given to this question determine many issues of alliances, demands, and tactics.
The breadth of the movement against the Iraq war
The Iraq war undoubtedly saw, for the first time for over a decade, mass resistance to a military offensive by a US administration. The numbers participating in demonstrations against the war exceeded even the number who opposed the Vietnam War forty years ago. There was intense media debate. A majority strongly opposed the war even in countries, such as Spain and Italy, whose governments supported it. In Britain, despite support for the war by both Labour and Conservative party leaderships, and by the majority of the mass media, the balance of public opinion usually opposed the war and increasingly has moved against it. There was a serious division in the UN. Most important of all, resistance in Iraq to the invasion has been continuous and escalating, forcing the brutal and self-interested character of the US and British governments in carrying out the invasion to be more and more clearly revealed. This struggle poses, for the first time since the beginning of the 1980s, the possibility of a defeat for the US in a major international project.
This mass anti-war movement followed and built on a decade of protests against neo-liberal policies. Key steps were the 1994 Zapatista uprising, the 1996 First Intercontinental Encounter for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism in Chiapas, the 1999 protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organisation, international demonstrations in Prague, Stockholm, Brussels, Bangkok, Washington, Barcelona, Genoa, and Florence.
These prepared the way for, and accompanied, the WSFs in Porte Alegre (2001–2003) and Mumbai (2004), and the ESFs held from 2002 onwards. In parallel, significant strikes against specific neo-liberal policies took place in a number of European countries (including France and Italy). A left government was elected in Brazil led by Lula, one managed to maintain itself in power in Venezuela under Chavez, and in most of Latin America there was increased opposition to neo-liberalism.
The neo-liberal policies advocated by the IMF in the 1990s led to open economic disaster in South East Asia, Russia, Brazil, and Argentina and were abandoned by a significant number of these countries, which then experienced strong economic growth – as with Russia and Argentina.
Victories in the US’s strategic projects
But despite the resistance and difficulties US imperialism has encountered in executing its war in Iraq, it is clear that it has succeeded in gaining major strategic objectives under the banner of the absurdly mis-titled ‘war against terrorism’. The US has occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, extended military bases into central Asia in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan and acquired a new compliant regime in Georgia. Sharon’s regime in Israel is continuing and deepening a bloody policy of repression against the Palestinians, Libya has been forced into a more acquiescent relation with the US, new pressure is being mounted against Iran and Syria, and there has been no mobilisation of the Arab or other peoples sufficient to reverse these trends. Throughout Europe an offensive against the welfare state is being intensified and the rise of extremist racist parties is in most cases, including Britain, more rapid than those of the left. In the US the most anti-war candidate within the Democratic Party, Howard Dean, was successfully defeated in the primaries. The only alternative candidate to Bush with a chance of being elected, John Kerry, would maintain the most important present policies of the US with only relatively small modification.
The international relation of social forces
It is also clear that to attempt to prevent a defeat in Iraq, or more than compensate for its effects if it becomes inevitable, the US is attempting to intensify a number of assaults on a world scale – for example against Iran, North Korea, Venezuela and the Palestinians. Therefore, although the popular actions against the war in Iraq were large, and those participating were militant, they have so far not been capable of reversing the policies of the US administration and its allies or of securing major international objectives of the movement for social justice.
It is therefore US imperialism which remains on the offensive and the world movement for social justice at present remains on the defensive – albeit the US is experiencing more serious resistance than previously. This is the only realistic view of the international and domestic political situation. And only a strictly objective view, not simply desires or wishes, can generate a victorious strategy to defeat an enemy as powerful as US imperialism. If such a realistic assessment is not made the movement will put forward proposals that do not generate the maximum support or which lead to setbacks through unnecessary defeats of individual groups or struggles. Equally, an objective view is necessary to secure the maximum advance that is possible in every political situation.
Therefore while it would be highly desirable to be able to assess that the popular movement was on the international offensive, driving back the attacks of the imperialists and making new gains – as was the situation, for example, from World War II until 1979 – it would be untrue. The task of the world movement for social justice is therefore to ensure that the significant minority, which is fighting back against this imperialist offensive, does so most successfully and succeeds in gaining the widest possible support on individual issues so that in time the offensive by imperialism can be rolled back. Secondly, it is to find how, over a period, the movement for social justice can turn itself into a majority, both locally and internationally, which alone is capable of successfully defeating the imperialist attacks that will intensify in the coming period, and to be able to move onto the offensive to secure its own goals.
This current overall situation therefore determines the areas in which this social struggle is, and must be, conducted. This is, at present, primarily on a defensive terrain – against neo-liberalism, war, racism and the extreme right. The necessary tactics to wage this struggle must be to create the widest possible alliances in action against the US imperialist and neo-liberal offensives. Differences on ideology, politics, or other issues, while being discussed, must not be allowed to interfere with the maximum unity in action against these offensives by the US and other capitalist forces.
Orientating in that situation requires a clear attitude to the main social forces operating internationally and within Britain.
4. The world economic situation and increasing military aggression by the US
An era of permanent US military aggression
Underlying all the current trends in world politics is the three-decade-old slowdown of the international capitalist economy. The specific forces underlying this slowdown propel US imperialism onto its path of almost permanent military aggression. As the latter is the most spectacular and decisive feature of the present situation its economic roots must be understood. Military pressure and aggression is not an optional policy for US imperialism. It is a necessary result of the entire world and domestic situation it faces.
Three decades of world economic slowdown
A key part of the ideological claims of neo-liberalism and imperialism in the 1990s was that US and world capitalism had entered into a new wave of rapid and unprecedented economic growth. At its extremes it was claimed that there was a ‘new economy’. This US growth allegedly provided a new paradigm that other countries could follow.
The facts show that this claim was totally false and crude propaganda based on ripping individual facts out of context and refusing to study overall trends. The international economy has been slowing for thirty years, ever since the crisis of 1973–75, as wider areas of it fall into stagnation and crisis. This trend continued during the 1990s.
US exploitation of the world economy
It is, furthermore, impossible for the rest of the planet to follow the US model. The latter is based on the extraction of vast quantities of capital from the rest of the world, as shown in the US balance of payments deficit which now runs at over $600 billion a year, $1.5 billion a day, five per cent of US GDP, or almost one third of US capital accumulation. The world as a whole cannot extract net capital from itself and it is therefore impossible for the rest of the world to follow the US imperialist model. The actual cumulative trends in the world economy are the following:
• In the 1970s most of Africa’s economies plunged into crisis and have not recovered three decades later. Much of sub-Saharan Africa is economically and socially devastated with millions of deaths from poverty, preventable or controllable disease, and war.
• In the 1980s most of Latin America entered relative economic stagnation. The continent has not regained its previous rate of growth despite a partial recovery in certain economies during the 1990s.
• Most of Eastern Europe, and all of the former USSR, entered into catastrophic economic decline after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1989–91 – experiencing the greatest peacetime falls in output (in some cases of more than 50%) of any countries in history. After a decade Eastern Europe has still not recovered its previous level of economic output and it will probably take closer to two decades for the former USSR to do so.
• In the 1990s Japan entered into a long period of relative economic stagnation, after four decades of rapid growth, following the collapse of the ‘bubble economy’ of the late 1980s.
• In 1997–98 South East Asia, after several decades of extremely rapid growth, experienced sharp crisis. While growth subsequently resumed, its rate, of three to five per cent a year, is qualitatively lower than its previous level.
• Western Europe and the Euro-zone entered into relative economic stagnation during the 1990s. This became still more pronounced during the downswing of the international business cycle from 2000 onwards.
• Only China, and to a lesser extent India, among the major economies outside the US, continue to show rapid long-term growth.
The successive, spreading slowdown, and in some cases decline, of widening areas of the world economy has created a progressive deceleration of the world economy. There are declining world rates of investment and therefore is declining potential for long-term economic growth.
The US parasite in the world economy
In light of the real facts about the world economy, the propaganda attempt to present the US as a paradigm of new rapid growth is entirely false. The performance of the US economy appears impressive only in comparison to the rest of the world economy, which has decelerated drastically. The US has merely regained its century-old rate of economic growth, of 3–3.5 per cent a year, while the rest of the world economy has sharply slowed below its growth rate of the past half century.
With US growth financed only via its huge balance of payments deficit, far from the the US economy providing a paradigm, it is a parasite sucking capital from the rest of the world economy and therefore slowing the latter.
Economy and politics of US imperialism
The huge US balance of payments deficit – over $600 billion a year – also shows, contrary to frequent media and administration assertions, that the US economy is not competitive at its current dollar exchange rate. However, a substantial and prolonged devaluation of the dollar, in order to reduce this deficit, and thereby lessen the necessity of the flow of capital from abroad, would involve significant pressure on the living standards of the US population, resulting in political instability within the US. This reality provides a direct link between the economic and political situations in the US.
The two presidents in recent US economic history who pursued a path of dollar devaluation – a precondition for limiting the dependence of the US on extraction of capital from abroad – were Nixon and Carter. Both were ejected from office in ignominious circumstances. In contrast, Reagan and Clinton, who were able to maintain a high exchange rate of the dollar, and therefore cheap imports of consumer goods and large inflows of capital, were the only two US presidents since 1961 able to serve two full terms.
US non-competitiveness and US military aggression
The non-competitiveness of the US economy at current exchange rates, combined with the risk of significant domestic political instability if prolonged and substantial dollar devaluation is embarked on, dictates the attempted path of military aggression by US administrations. Left to purely economic forces the US would increasingly lose its competitive position to Asian and European rivals. A progressive erosion of the position of the dollar as a reserve currency in favour of the euro would occur, further reducing the room for manoeuvre by US administrations. Therefore, if issues are settled purely on the economic terrain, a gradual undermining of the economic hegemony of the US will occur. The attempt to reverse this by economic means, i.e. a prolonged devaluation and reduction in US living standards, would result in political instability and the likely defeat of administrations attempting it.
The only method available to US imperialism to attempt to prevent an undermining of its hegemony, while seeking to maintain internal political stability, is therefore to attempt to shift struggles from the terrain of economic competition to that of military power. In the latter field US hegemony has not decreased but sharply increased following the disintegration of the USSR. The following examples highlight the US attempt to use military power to resolve economic problems in its favour:
• In Iraq the US has sought to destroy by military intervention the favourable competitive position enjoyed by French, Russian and Chinese companies and to redirect advantage, above all control of Iraq’s oil, to US corporations.
• In the wider Middle East the US has attempted to undermine the positions held by European companies by boosting its puppet state Israel and increasing the subservience of the region’s Arab regimes.
• In Central Asia the US is attempting to aid its drive to gain control of the region’s oil supplies from Russian competitors through the establishment of military bases on the territory of the former USSR and direction of pipeline routes to US client states such as Turkey and Georgia.
• In Eastern Europe the US is attempting to use reactionary clientelist regimes in Poland, the Baltic republics and other states to undermine the position of its German and French competitors. It is similarly using these governments to prevent the further integration of the European Union as a rival to the US, and to attempt to drive a wedge between the EU and Russia.
• In Latin America the US is attempting to overthrow the left reformist administration of Chavez and, under cover of the fraudulent ‘war against drugs’, to extend its military reach into wider regions of the continent.
Given the underlying economic trends further attempts to intensify US military aggression and pressure are inevitable in the coming period. US imperialism and its administrations cannot be persuaded onto a more reasonable course. They can only be defeated in struggle.
For this reason, the situation in Iraq is of great strategic, as well as regional, significance. Defeat of the US project in Iraq, that is of its first use of military force to occupy a substantial country in the recent period, would undermine its strategy on a world scale – sending a clear signal that the US did not possess an unchallengeable accumulation of political and military advantages that allowed it to resolve all major world questions in its own interests. In no other part of the world at present can such a significant defeat for US imperialism be delivered.
For this reason the single most important task of the world movement for social justice, of the ESF and WSF, must be to fight for the defeat of the US aggression in Iraq.
5. The ESF and the imperialist ruling classes
Given the complexity of the struggle for international social justice, the myriad of oppressions maintained by capitalism against which it is necessary to fight, and the length of the struggle, the ESF will face a constantly developing political situation. It is completely impossible to foresee accurately all its events, combinations, and trends.
This world situation is, however, driven by large-scale social forces that exist, and in many cases operate, on a world scale. Understanding the fundamental trends of the international political situation is therefore best achieved by analysis of these.
The aim of such an analysis is to understand the overall dynamics of the political situation and therefore how most effectively to intervene to change it. This dynamic is determined by the interrelation of all elements operating within it – internationally and in their unique national combinations. Such dynamics include, but are not confined to, the strength of forces seeking social justice. Analysis of the political situation, therefore, cannot limit itself to simply assessing the situation within the movement for social justice, or even among the oppressed and exploited, but must take into account all social forces operating.
The following therefore deals with the trajectories of the main social forces existing on a world scale.
The continuing internationalisation of the world economy
Underlying the entire development of the social situation is the deepening internationalisation of the world capitalist economy – popularly known as globalisation. The capitalist system was international from its origins. But the course of the 20th century demonstrated that advanced capitalist production has now developed to the point where it is only capable of operating on an international scale. The period between World War I and World War II, when the international economy was cartelised behind the boundaries of national empires, saw the deepest economic crisis in capitalism’s history. Only World War II, and the re-creation of an increasingly integrated world capitalist economy organised by the US, allowed the re-launching of sustained capitalist economic growth. Globalisation is not, therefore, an optional or reversible course for capitalism. It is the only path it is capable of pursuing.
Any project of creating a purely national capitalist economy is utopian and will be incapable of maintaining itself for a sustained period against the pressure of world capitalism. Regarding other purely national alternatives, between the world wars Stalin’s method of an autarchic planned national economy showed that ‘socialism in one country’ was, at a dreadful social price, more capable of developing production than ‘capitalism in one country’. But capitalism in one country, or in individual national empires, no longer exists.
In the last two decades, for example, the Chinese economy has achieved its success, and with it the lifting of hundreds of millions out of poverty, through using the trends of the world economy in its own favour, not via seeking autarchy. China, however, has succeeded in this not by blindly subordinating itself to the world economy but via using the nationalisation of large parts of its economy to utilise international economic trends in favour of its own development. Cuba has similarly used international trends in its own interests to recover economically from the devastating blow dealt to it by the collapse of aid from the former USSR.
The US imperialist bourgeoisie
For several decades after World War II the most powerful imperialist capitalist class, that of the US, faced a dual challenge.
• It sought to defeat an upsurge of colonial revolutions that brought to an end all the major formal capitalist empires and also overthrew capitalism in China, Vietnam and Cuba.
• The US sought to dismantle the empires of its capitalist competitors, in particular Britain and France, which acted as a barrier to its domination of the maximum area of the world economy. The US sought to establish a world empire without formal colonies.
From World War II to 1979 the US was on the defensive, culminating in its defeats in China, Cuba and then Vietnam and a final post-war colonial revolutionary wave in 1979 with the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua. However, commencing with Reagan, the US took the opportunity of the split between the USSR and China to launch a major counter-offensive with the aim of weakening or destroying the USSR – which had been in various degrees of alliance with this revolutionary wave. This counter-revolutionary offensive was successful.
The dominant fraction of the US capitalist class assessed that this victory in the Cold War created a new and unprecedented shift in the international relation of forces in its favour. Between 1943, with the defeat of the German army at Stalingrad, and 1979 imperialism had suffered historically unprecedented defeats that not only dismantled the colonial empires but placed certain significant constraints on its ability to overtly intervene in the internal affairs of third world states. These victories reversed five centuries of essentially continuous and undefeated imperialist and colonialist expansion that had perpetrated the greatest crimes in the history of humanity – the slave trade, the impoverishment and pillaging of numerous countries, and the achievement in several cases of what Hitler attempted – the genocidal elimination of entire peoples.
Flushed with its post-1979 victories, the project of the dominant fraction of the US ruling class remains to reverse a substantial part of this adverse shift in the historical relation of forces. It aims, and in a number of cases openly proclaims its intention, to construct a new world order under its direct leadership and with all major questions resolved in its interests. This project is cloaked in the pretence/ideology of a ‘benign imperialism’. US imperialism claims that only a few holdouts, ‘rogue states’, and those ‘opposed to reform’ are preventing the achievement of such a world order allegedly guaranteeing economic and social development, peace and democracy. To remove such obstacles, ‘pre-emptive’ military force and every other form of subversive action is justified, including unilateral action if required by the US and a few states most closely tied to it. The Iraq war provided a test bed for this political orientation.
While the military and economic power of this US project is extremely strong, its proclaimed ideology is merely a tissue of lies. There is no more a ‘benign imperialism’ than there is a vegetarian tiger. The methods of US imperialism are the same as its European precursors and include:
• killing two million people in Vietnam
• unnecessary use of nuclear weapons against Japan
• repeated military incursions in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa
• gratuitous systematic bombing to economically devastate North Korea in the final stages of the war on that peninsula
• propping up of the great majority of the most odious and repressive regimes in the world – four decades of support for apartheid South Africa before being forced to abandon this, support for Franco, Salazar, successive Guatemalan regimes, Israel, the Shah of Iran, Pinochet, Marcos, Samosa, the Greek colonels, and Saudi Arabia
• imposition of economic programmes, via the IMF, the WTO and other means which are responsible for the deaths of millions of people, and supreme indifference despite the possibility of resolving these issues
• the crushing of billions by poverty, deaths of tens of millions from preventable or containable diseases
• judicial terror against the US black population
• destruction of the world environment
• willingness to use aggressive military force against all those who oppose it.
The European and Japanese imperialist ruling classes
The capitalist classes of the European states have no moral objection to an openly imperialist world order. They pioneered it over several centuries and attempt to maintain it in formally independent former colonial territories. But they want such an order constituted under their leadership or, as this is impractical, with their significant participation. They therefore believe it dangerous that such an imperialist order should be unilaterally constructed by the US – as the latter will use such unilateral power to resolve issues in its own interests and against European competitors.
For this reason the most important European states, France and Germany, in alliance at present with Russia, favour such imperialist projects being organised through a condominium of imperialist states, for example the UN, rather than unilaterally by the US. This can lead to tactical differences with the US, as over Iraq, and to intensified forms of economic competition – shown most graphically in the contest for reserve currency status between the euro and the dollar.
Japan, confronted at short range with the military strength of China and Russia, is unable to play an equivalent role of even partial independence of the US. At present, therefore, Japanese imperialism contents itself with rebuilding its military potential, removing political obstacles to its use, politically rehabilitating overtly nationalist, military and imperialist ideologies, and laying the technological base for later acquisition of nuclear weapons.
Attitude to the imperialist ruling classes
In an epoch of unprecedentedly destructive weapons, the future crimes of the imperialist powers threaten to exceed even those of the past – up to and including the use of nuclear arms. Even at present the attempts to create popular support and ‘justification’ for imperialist projects require the promotion of the most reactionary ideologies and political movements, racism and xenophobia. These increasingly dominate the media of the imperialist countries. Buttressing imperialist ideologies and institutions requires reducing the significance of the loss of life by Arab and other peoples, the trivialisation and elimination of diversity of expression in the mass media and the systematic debasing of human culture, science and thought.
Against such policies, the resistance of peoples and countries is inevitable. Attempts to implement such projects necessarily lead the world further into an era of permanent conflict, wars, and crimes. No section of the imperialist powers will systematically oppose such schemes, but will merely insist that, to a greater or lesser extent, they be executed in their own interests rather than those of their competitors.
Their character and history shows that no trust may be placed in any section of the imperialist bourgeoisies by the ESF or any other progressive movement. However the pursuit of progressive struggles makes it permissible and necessary to exploit differences between the various imperialist powers which may involve the making of practical alliances with sections of them – as with France, Germany and Russia over the Iraq war, as Brazil is doing, as Cuba does in the fight against US encirclement, and as China does to enlarge its room for economic and political manoeuvre. Such alliances are however purely tactical in character and do not reflect that any group of imperialists is more progressive than any other. Every imperialist ruling class merely regrets that it itself does not have the power to execute the level of crimes of the US imperialists.
It is entirely permissible to enter into a practical alliance with an imperialist ruling class to pursue an interest of the working class and oppressed – for example with French and German imperialism to oppose the actions of the US in Iraq. But even in such a struggle the imperialist ruling class will be a hesitating, uncertain and cowardly ally. Above all no strategic confidence may be placed in it. The strategic goal must be constantly to expand the sphere of organisation of the working class and oppressed independently of every section of the imperialists. All tactical issues are placed within that framework.
6. The political trends in semi-colonial countries
The semi-colonial capitalist classes
The increasing globalisation of the capitalist economy results in the semi-colonial capitalist classes finding themselves generally undermined and weakened by the pressure of the imperialist bourgeoisies. They are unable to compete in the decisive sectors of production with the imperialist multinational companies, which therefore increasingly penetrate and take over their home markets. The entire apparatus not only of ownership but of the mass media, marketing and culture from the imperialist countries is therefore penetrating the semi-colonial states. However a fundamental struggle against imperialist domination could not be successful in a capitalist economy and would require a mobilisation of the popular masses that would threaten the position of the semi-colonial bourgeoisies themselves. The semi-colonial capitalist classes therefore increasingly adopt either a position of supine prostration before US imperialism and its direct relays (as in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Nicaragua, Colombia) or attempt to gain a certain margin of manoeuvre by exploiting conflicts of interests between the imperialist powers, in particular between the US and France/Germany. The latter path is pursued by Brazil, Argentina and South Africa. In the latter case such divisions may increase the room for manoeuvre by popular movements.
In most cases the semi-colonial bourgeoisies continue the economic and social attack on the majority of the population even when engaging in limited conflicts with imperialism. In a small number of cases however, the most important contemporary one being Venezuela, sections of the semi-colonial bourgeois may be drawn into severe conflicts with imperialism, involving substantial popular mobilisations.
Political movements of the semi-colonial bourgeoisies
In such a world situation the wide international reformist movements of the 1950s-1970s (Bandung, Non-Aligned Movement) have essentially collapsed as large or effective forces, together with most of the type of bourgeois reformist leaderships (Nkrumah, Sukharno, Nasser, Nyrere) that provided their national political bases. Attempts to create regional groupings on a similar basis, for example in Latin America, cannot fundamentally change the international situation, or regain the momentum of the non-aligned movements of 1954–79.
Any international movement for social justice will therefore have to involve and base itself on popular forces for support much more directly than the non-aligned movements of the post-World War II period. For example, the WSF and ESF have received support from reformist parties, notably in Brazil, and from sections of the imperialist bourgeoisie, as in France, but both the WSF and the ESF are much more linked to popular and social movements than was the non-aligned movement.
In so far as the semi-colonial bourgeoisies take steps that correspond to the needs of the mass of the population, or clash with the interests of the imperialists, it is necessary to enter into practical agreements with them to pursue such struggles. Thus in Venezuela those fighting for social justice are totally alongside Chavez in resisting the attempts by imperialism and local reaction to remove him. In Brazil, while struggling against the right wing economic and social orientation of the Lula government, it is necessary to support its opposition to the US war in Iraq and opposition to imperialist policies in the WTO.
The rural and urban petty-bourgeoisie of the semi-colonial countries
Of the utmost importance in the semi-colonial countries is the relation of the working class and movement for social justice with the town and rural petty-bourgeoisie. These groups, in particular the peasants, were a fundamental base of support for the entire progressive movement against colonialism. They supported and formed the mass popular base of bourgeois reformist parties (such as the African anti-colonial movements, Indian Congress, Peron), revolutionary petty-bourgeois national movements (such as the Algerian National Liberation Front), and in certain instances working-class parties (such as the Chinese Communist Party, Vietnamese Communist Party, Castro). The defeats suffered by the working class since the 1970s however have in some cases fractured and weakened this broad progressive orientation, leading to sections of the urban petty bourgeoisie and peasantry supporting overtly pro-imperialist forces (such as the Mexican National Action Party – PAN), or currents mobilising against imperialism under religious or other ideologies. In these latter cases the movement for social justice, while not agreeing with their ideologies, must engage in united action with them against the chief and most powerful threat to humanity – the imperialist bourgeoisie. A fundamental goal of the movement remains to win back the urban and rural petty-bourgeoisie to an overtly progressive orientation, as only in alliance with these layers can the working class of the semi-colonial countries be victorious.
[Continued in Part 2]