National Sections of the L5I:

Looking Back on 2017 and forward to 2018

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Two figures tower over 2017; Donald Trump inaugurated as the 45th President of the USA in January with his pledge to “Make America Great Again” and Xi Jinping at the Communist Party of China’s 19th Congress promising a “new era … striving with endless energy toward national rejuvenation”. At a lower level, there was Emmanuel Macron’s landslide victory in the French Presidential election and his plans to rejuvenate the crisis-wracked European Union. All of these signal what we have observed before; that we have entered a period of far more open and dangerous inter-imperialist rivalry.

The “economic” development behind this is that the rise of China relative to the USA has reached a “tipping point”, that is, the point at which quantity is transformed into quality. According to Deutsche Bank analysts, within 5 years China could account for a larger share of global GDP than the USA, something they describe as “the relative decline of a world superpower”. Most economic indicators, however, show the US remains far ahead of China; according to the World Bank, in 2013, GDP per capita in the US was $53,042, in China just $6,807. Nonetheless, China does not have to surpass the USA to undermine Americans' feeling that absolute domination and freedom are under serious challenge. Trump won the election precisely on the widespread belief that America is indeed in decline and that this requires a supreme and, where necessary, an aggressive, effort to put itself back on top again.

For the time being, however, America’s military dominance remains unrivalled amongst the other great powers. The US accounts for 37 percent of the entire world’s military spending, more than four times that of China, the No. 2 spender. The US has strategic dominance of land, sea, air and space. America’s unsuccessful wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and its “loss” without fighting in Syria, testify to the difficulties even a superpower faces from asymmetrical warfare, rather than a decline of US military superiority.

US weakness was also demonstrated by Obama's indecision as to what to do about the Syrian revolution and civil war and the fact that it has ended as a victory for Bashar al-Assad or rather for his main sponsors Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. It is reflected too, in the assertiveness of US allies like the Turkish President, the Saudi royal family and the Philippine President. Trump is now determined to break free of multilateral agreements whether these be on trade, climate change or on military commitments and to turn to a deal-by-deal ‘transactionalism’, which puts America’s immediate economic interests ahead of its role as guardian of the so-called New World Order. 
 
However, this is in no sense a retreat into American isolationism; nor any abandonment of US imperialism’s desires to dominate the world. Trump’s threats and foreign policy zigzags, are a response to this perceived weakness. Trump wants to use US military might, if possible solely as threats, to force concessions not only from Washington's imperialist rivals but from its allies, too. For this reason, he wants to prevent additions to the club of states protected against US threats by their possession of a nuclear deterrent, hence his bellicose stance towards North Korea and Iran. This new aggressiveness, however, will inevitably provoke other global powers to combine forces to frustrate and check his initiatives.

This raises considerably the threat of actual military conflicts. In the first instance, these will no doubt be between “proxies” of the great powers but in the foreseeable future, between the powers themselves. Moreover, by “proxies” we should not understand mere puppets. The most valuable of them to the US, like Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, also have their own degree of agency and, thanks to the rise of imperialist alternatives to the US, the tail can increasingly come to wag the dog.

Meanwhile, China is advertising itself in Asia, Africa, and even in the Americas, as an alternative developmental model to that of the West; that is, one that can offer dynamic capitalist assistance but tolerate authoritarian or even totalitarian politics. Of course, Chinese aid, trade and investments are not without their price. It is an undertaking involving major capital export and acquiring inputs into its own economy, via the One Belt-One Road initiative.

The Middle East is still the main powder barrel of the world situation. The Arab revolutions have succumbed to various forms of counterrevolution in which imperialist powers; Russia and the US, regional powers; Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel and the “non-state actors’’/ guerilla fighters; Al-Qaeda franchises, ISIS, Hezbollah, all played a devastating role, increasing exponentially the suffering of the populations of Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya. 
 
The near-complete victory of Assad or, rather, of his Russian and Iranian allies, and the contradictions amongst his enemies; the reestablishment of a military dictatorship in Egypt, with Saudi and US support; the intervention of Turkey in Syria in pursuit of its war against the Kurds, continue a process begun by the US invasion of Iraq fifteen years ago.
 
The Latin American countries, which saw the “pink tide” in the 2000s, have now seen right wing victories in elections or constitutional coups, which have put the left populists and reformist socialists alike on the defensive in Brazil, Argentina and Ecuador, with the post-Chavez Bolivarian regime under heavy siege in Venezuela.
 
In Africa, a series of rigged elections, of presidents trying to hang on to power by extending the number of terms and, once again, the threat of military coups, threaten yet greater chaos in the years ahead. In Zimbabwe and South Africa, regimes installed by the liberation movements of the 1980s and1990s but long corrupted, are now in serious crisis. The intransigence of Robert Mugabe forced the military to summon the masses onto the streets. The election of millionaire Cyril Ramaphosa, the man behind the Marikana massacre in 2012 in which 34 miners were killed, and at least 78 were wounded, as head of the ANC will represent no change for the better for the masses.

The most acute political crisis in Europe today is that engendered in the Spanish state by the undemocratic suppression of the demand for Catalan independence by Mariano Rajoy. The Catalan elections on December 21 returned the narrowest of majorities for pro-independence parties but with a narrow majority of the popular vote against. Thus the crisis will continue and indeed the whole situation cannot be resolved unless Rajoy is driven out of power in Madrid and the undemocratic 1978 constitution ripped up and the monarchy abolished. This can only be achieved under the leadership of the working class.

The rise of reactionary, racist populism in Europe is itself a sign of deepening social instability. It also reflects a crisis of the traditional social democratic and communist parties. The Alternative for Germany, AfD, won 12.6 percent in the September elections, entering the Bundestag with 92 deputies, making it the third largest party. Austria’s far right Freedom Party emerged from the October election in a position to govern with the ÖVP’s Sebastian Kurz, who also moved to the right to win.

In the Czech Republic, a billionaire populist, Andrej Babiš, and his ANO party won by a large margin. Although, in France, Marine Le Pen and, in Holland, Geert Wilders, did not break through to government, she captured a third of the vote for President and he expanded his party's seats in parliament from 15 to 20. Another strong far right party is the ruling Law and Justice Party in Poland, with 235 seats out of 460 in the Sejm. Elections in Italy might see a revival of Silvio Berlusconi or an opening for Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement.

In Britain, the ruling class is faced with a Brexit it did not want and a dysfunctional Conservative Party of its own, without a parliamentary majority. The incredible miscalculation of the 2017 election by May, forced them to rely on a reactionary and Europhobic party, the Democratic Unionists. In such conditions, if Labour had a coherent position itself, that is, one opposed to Brexit but also a programme for a socialist Europe won by continent-wide workers' struggles, it would be well placed to drive out the Tories and install a Corbyn Labour government. However, it has pandered to MPs in its supposed “northern heartlands” on reducing immigration from the EU by abandoning free movement. Thus all its hopes rest on a Tory implosion. 

Looking Forward 
 
The developments in 2017 have thrown down huge challenges to the working class movement, which finds itself in a deep crisis of organisation, programme and leadership. The widespread stagnation, or downright decline, of wages in many countries over the past two to three decades, and the general shrinkage in membership of the trade unions despite (because of?) their increased unit size, indicates a working class in transition or transformation not, as some think, one in decomposition or disappearance. In many cases, the wish is father to the thought of these theorists. We need to reply to them not just with orthodox polemics but also with a creative use of the Marxist method to illuminate future developments
 
Changes in technology, new methods and chains of production, exchange and communication, necessarily transform the social physiognomy and the working class as a whole. This includes the gender balance of the working class, the growth of the number of precarious workers and the decline or collapse of old industries where workers were well-organised. Not least, they also change its global location and the forms of the class struggle.
 
From this development must flow new forms of organisation, or the rediscovery of old ones, including modern versions of the soviets of 1917. It will mean trade unions able to organise new sections of the working class whether industrial, service sector or in the so-called gig economy. This may necessitate new unions altogether but it will certainly require the creation of rank and file organisation within the huge, heavily bureaucratized unions, whether industrial or general.
 
Above all, it will require rediscovering the route to a revolutionary party of the workers' vanguard able to give a lead to all these developments. In different countries there have been signs of a left revival; in Britain, in the Corbyn movement, based on the mass entry of left forces into the Labour Party, in the USA, the rise of the Democratic Socialists of America and the role played by women in the huge anti-Trump demo that greeted his Inauguration and, more recently, the #MeToo movement that has exposed the scale of sexist harassment suffered by huge numbers of women worldwide. The will to fightback is there alright. It needs to be focused and organized. For this, the revolutionaries need to get together around a programme of action, a programme for power.
 
Central in the coming year, indeed years, will be the need to address the dangers of destructive regional wars, like Syria and Yemen, of mass flights of refugees and foul racist responses in the old imperialist heartlands such as we are seeing in Europe today. But, rising on the horizon, under Presidents Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, equally, is the immense danger or, indeed, the threat, of inter-imperialist war. This confirms the burning necessity of a Fifth International to open the road to a new October.