We are entering a dramatic period in history. Capitalism is in decline. The collapse of the system will be characterized by intense and sometimes chaotic economic and political fluctuations. The next economic crisis might be triggered by Brexit, Italy’s economic crises, or a trade war between the US and China.
Capitalism is in political crisis. The bourgeoisie is divided between those who wish to continue with neoliberal globalization and those who want to return to a more firmly nation-based capitalism as the way out of the crisis. The split in the bourgeoisie continues down through the middle class and the working class in the Global North, between groups linked to transnational capital and groups linked to national sectors, respectively. New questionable alliances arise. Trump’s election as president of the United States, the Brexit movement in Britain, the Yellow Vests in France, and the growth of right populism throughout Europe are all signs of this split and the confusion it causes.
The split in the bourgeoisie is reinforced by the increased resistance of the working and middle classes in the imperialist countries towards neoliberal globalization. The relocation of industry to the Global South created unemployment and wage pressures in the North. Privatization and shrinking public budgets eroded the welfare state. Immigrants and refugees were perceived as competitors for wages and welfare. Tax cuts and tax evasion by the wealthiest people and the greed of the financial sector also contributed to the breakdown of the social contract between labour and capital, which had been the basis for capitalist economic growth and political stability ever since the Second World War.
Although trade unions, the labour parties, and the socialist “brand” in general had been weakened by decades of neoliberalism, the working class of the Global North was not powerless. They had a weapon left: the parliamentary democratic system they had succeeded in winning at the beginning of the last century. Politicians who supported neoliberal globalization haemorrhaged voters, while politicians who had an economic and political nationalist agenda gained support everywhere.
The old politicians are desperately seeking to overcome the gap between the demands of transnational capital for continued neoliberal globalization and a growing desire on the part of the electorate to return to the capitalist nation-based welfare state. An impossible task. You cannot turn back time. Production and consumption have become globalized. Industry is not returning to the Global North. The capitalist/social-democratic welfare state will not return. Out of frustration over the loss of the former welfare state provisions, you see protests like the “Yellow Vests” in France.
The right- and left-wing populist movements with nationalist agendas and social agendas represent those groups in society who lost their foothold during neoliberal globalization. They demand their share of “the cake” back from “the rich”. However, in globalized capitalism the generation and distribution of wealth are not confined within national boundaries. Due to imperialist relations, flows of value stream from the Global South to the North. Therefore, the struggle over the division of “the cake” is not only a national struggle, it has global implications. The wealth of a nation is not necessarily generated within that nation’s borders. If these movements leave imperialist relations out of their analysis, if they do not have a clear anti-imperialist element in their struggle, if they only fight for their share of “national wealth”, without worrying about how it is produced, they leave the path wide open to national chauvinists from right to left. You cannot be a genuine anti-capitalist without being an anti-imperialist, because Imperialism is essential to the functioning of capitalist accumulation.
Do the “Yellow Vests” want to end capitalism? Certainly not. They want higher wages, less taxes, and social security. Will they succeed? They might get some minor concessions, but they will not turn the tide. However, they can bring governments down; they will definitely aggravate the crisis of neoliberalism. There are lessons to be learned for future struggles. In my part of the world – the imperialist centre – we must be on alert for any kind of nationalism. Within a capitalist and imperialist framework, it is reactionary. Instead of national citizenship, our solidarity must be based on class – internationalism.
I consider the contradiction between neoliberals and nationalists in the United States and the EU to be one of the main contradictions in the world – if not the main contradiction – right now. It influences other contradictions, it certainly has global consequences. Let me give one important example.
China has become the world’s largest exporter of industrial goods due to the rise of global neoliberalism. The current crisis of neoliberalism means falling exports and thus economic and political crisis in China. If neoliberal globalization had managed to continue, the emerging Chinese bourgeoisie could have become an integrated part of the global ruling class, and China itself would have been fully integrated within capitalism. However, the crisis of neoliberalism means contradictions between the United States and China are growing. A new cold/hot war may be on its way. At the same time, contradictions in China between the new bourgeoisie and the growing proletariat, both generated by neoliberalism, are on the rise. The Chinese proletariat wants a fair share of the value they produce, the value that under neoliberalism has flown to the Global North.
As the contradictions in the Global North affect the South, developments within China especially will also affect the fate of capitalism. A major confrontation between China and the USA or an escalation of the class and political struggles in China itself would have huge consequences for the global economy. A revival of socialism in China would certainly have an impact on the political climate throughout the Global South. The contradiction between the USA and China or contradictions within China could develop into the principal contradiction in the world. So keep an eye on developments in China.
However, the crises of neoliberalism cause many other problems for the wellbeing of capitalism. The institutions that were laboriously built to regulate neoliberal globalization are eroding: this applies to the EU, NAFTA, and the WTO. The last G-meetings have ended in fiasco; mainly due to Trump’s lack of global leadership, which the wellbeing of capitalism is dependent on. Even in NATO, there is growing disagreement between the United States and the European powers about who is going to pay for the security of imperialism.
In addition to these global trends, there are many regional contradictions. There has been war in some part of the Arab world for half a century. Nations lie in ruin from Libya to Syria to Iraq to Yemen. Potential wars lurk on the horizon: the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the US/EU vs. Russia conflict over Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula, the United States conflict with North Korea, and so on.
On top of that, or rather at the foundation of it all, there are environmental and climate problems, which will have serious consequences for all humanity. Problems which are denied by the nation that contributes the most to them – the United States.
How do we navigate this complex, turbulent, and dangerous situation to reach an egalitarian and democratic world order?
There are several points to keep in mind. First, we must lift our eyes to keep a global perspective. Capitalism is a global system. Production and consumption are globalized. Its political and military strategies are global. We must be able to analyse and identify the principal contradiction on a global level, as well as the most important aspect of that contradiction. The principal contradiction has a major influence on all regional, national, and local conflicts. Resistance must be based on the global perspective; from that, plan the strategy for the struggle on local ground. We must be able to identify events that can trigger a revolutionary situation. We must be able to predict what kind of struggles will lead to another world order and what they require in terms of knowledge and practical skills. What type of organization is suitable? What are the words that will mobilize people?
In a turbulent world of shifting alliances, we must be aware of who our enemies are and who our friends are. We must be aware of which alliances are strategic and which are tactical, and that the enemy of our enemy is not necessarily our friend.
Our struggle must be revolutionary – for another world order. It makes no sense to reform a system which is about to die. Ideally, we must be able to link the short-term struggles, which ease the pain here and now, with a revolutionary perspective. We should not have any illusions about what is needed to solve the problems that face us.
All this is asking a lot, more than we are capable of right now. But, we must begin to increase our capacities if we want to succeed. We are entering a crucial period of history, not only for ourselves – but also for future generations. Will the implosion of capitalism usher the dawn of socialism on a global scale, or will the collapse of capitalism pull us down into a world of barbaric violence and natural disasters?
late December 2018
Torkil Lauesen is a longtime anti-imperialist activist and writer living in Denmark. From 1970 to 1989, he was full-time member of a communist anti-imperialist group, supporting Third World liberation movements by both legal and illegal means. He worked occasionally as a glass factory worker, mail carrier, and laboratory worker, in order to be able to stay on the dole. In connection with support work, he has traveled in Lebanon, Syria, Zimbabwe, South Africa, the Philippines, and Mexico. In the 1990s, while in prison, he was involved in prison activism and received a Masters degree in political science. He is currently a member of International Forum, an anti-imperialist organization based in Denmark.
In 2018, Kersplebedeb published the English-language translation of Lauesen’s book Det Globale Perspektiv, under the title The Global Perspective: Reflections on Imperialism and Resistance. It is available from leftwingbooks.net