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The second issue of Fifth International is published one year after the invasion and occupation of Iraq underlined both the unchallengeable superiority of the United States of America and Washington’s commitment to use all means necessary to secure that domination. The demonstration of its military might, however, also served to galvanise its opponents, from the millions who demonstrated on the streets of every major city in the world, to the cabinet rooms of its supposed allies. The subjects dealt with in this issue have all gained a degree of urgency as US hegemony inevitably generates both opposition and instability.

Much as the leading powers of “old Europe”, led by Germany and France may disagree with US policy in the Middle East, as the last year has again shown, they are unable to do anything substantial to alter it. In his survey of the prospects for the European Union as it expands from 15 to 25 members, Michael Pröbsting examines the roots of European imperialism’s weakness and the strategic imperatives facing its key powers, Germany and France. He concludes that their highest priority, the objective towards which all measures are directed, is the eradication of the social gains made by the working class since the Second World War. The expansion to the east, the proposed new constitution, which enshrines neo-liberal economic policies, and the domestic policies of members states all play a role in this but the shift in resources required to bolster profits is too great to be achieved simply by incremental steps. The stage is set for major class struggles across Europe.

What a class struggle of historic significance can look like, is revealed by Mark Hoskisson in his article on the Great Strike of the British miners which erupted 20 years ago. More than an account of the heroism and determination of the miners, their wives and their supporters throughout the world, the piece focuses on the political weaknesses of those who led the strike, and the treachery of the leaders of the rest of labour movement, which brought it to defeat.

One of the United States’ closest allies in Europe during the war against Iraq, José Maria Aznar of Spain, appeared to have ridden out the storm of protest that he faced over his support for the war, until he tried to exploit revulsion at the 11 March Madrid bombings by blaming them on the Basque separatist group, ETA. The speed with which the people of Spain saw through this manoeuvre, and the fact that Aznar thought it would win him the election, underlines the continued centrality of this unresolved national question. David Ellis, analyses the “Basque Question” in the context of the delayed development of capitalism and, therefore, of a Spanish bourgeoisie and explains why the Spanish state has continued to refuse to recognise the right of self-determination, even though the evidence suggests most Basques would not favour independence.

Another government destined to disappoint is that led by Brazil’s Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, a former strike leader and founder of the Workers’ Party. He has now been in power as president of Brazil for nearly 18 months. In this time he has instigated a major attack on people’s pension provision, and presided over a leap in unemployment and fall in real wages. Unsurprisingly, he has won plaudits from the IMF and World Bank. Keith Harvey surveys the record of the PT in municipal office during the 1990s, the marginalisation, failure and complicity of the left inside PT.

The ideological rationale given by the leaders of the PT for their approach to governing Brazil leans heavily upon the legacy of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci and more recently the work of Tony Negri and Michael Hardt in their seminal work, Empire. In the latter PT leaders find support for a strategy that renounces a political programme based on the needs of the working class and aims to transform the capitalist state from within by leaning for popular support on multi-class popular movements in civil society. Keith Harvey and Rodney Edvinsson refute Negri and Hardt’s naive view of a post-imperialist world, defend the Marxist concepts of exploitation, the state and class struggle, and critique their meagre proposals for the political reform of capitalism.