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The end of the decade and the struggles ahead

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Simon Hardy reviews the last decade and looks forward to revolutionary upheavals in the coming years

Clouds of tear gas had hardly cleared from the streets of Seattle when the world celebrated the arrival of the new millennium. The propagandists of globalisation proclaimed that there was no alternative to free market capitalism; an era of limitless economic expansion had arrived, despite the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Yet in March 2000 the bursting of the "dot-com bubble" led to a recession, first in Europe and then in the USA in the years 2001-03.

The failure of the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle on 30th November 1999 was an event that marked the beginning of a global anti-capitalist movement. A year later “Prague was turned into Seattle” as demonstrators besieged the joint meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. These three institutions – the WTO, IMF and World Bank – were the key economic instruments of the new unipolar world order, the rule of the US Empire, which had emerged after the downfall of communism in the early 90s. Its key political focus was the annual meetings of the G7 and then G8 – the leaders of the major imperialist powers.

In July 2001 the militant anti-capitalist protests against the meeting of the G8 leaders in Genoa were met by repression from the full force of the modern capitalist state. Italian riot police chased, gassed and clubbed over 100,000 demonstrators and even killed one of them – 23-year-old Carlo Giuliani.

Yet another defining moment was about to occur – 9/11, the fall of the twin towers of World Trade Centre in New York, symbols of US corporate and financial power in the globalised economy. This time, the bourgeoisie’s enemies were not anti-capitalist but Islamists of Al Qaeda. 9/11 provided a powerful pretext for a new type of imperialist war, one without borders, without an official state enemy, a war allegedly fought against “terrorism.” It became a pretext for an attack on “failed states”, which had vital raw material resources or were strategically central to US interests. It became a strategy for trying to prolong US total global hegemony into a self-proclaimed “New American Century”.

The November 2000 US elections, effectively stolen from the Democratic candidate Al Gore by shameless ballot-rigging in the state of Florida, opened the way for the George Bush Jnr regime, which was determined to reassert US power in Central Asia and the Middle East. At the same time, Russia, with the election of Vladimir Putin, was also determined to reassert itself in its “near abroad” after a decade of humiliating retreats.

At the turn of the millennium Afghanistan was a country ruled by the Taliban and Saddam Hussein was still the dictator of Iraq. This was soon to change as the US and its allies used 9/11 as a pretext to carry out regime change, first in Afghanistan (2001) and then in Iraq (2003).

These bloody wars of occupation led to the streets of the world’s cities being filled with people protesting, as many as 20 million on February 15th 2003. George Bush and Tony Blair rapidly became the most hated and despised “democratic leaders” of modern times. The mass demonstrations disproved the lie that we live in a post-modern, post-political age. A new generation of young fighters joined the ranks of the left.

Pakistanbecame increasingly unstable, as the war in Afghanistan spilled over into its border regions. Despite the downfall of Pervez Musharraf and the election of the Peoples Party of Pakistan, the ordinary people of Pakistan are still subjected to militarisation and terrible poverty, exacerbated by the war on terror.

In Palestine a new intifada against the Israeli occupation had erupted in September 2000. By the end of the decade the historic leaders of the Palestinian resistance movement, Fatah, had shamefully sold out their own people, Palestine witnessed a virtual civil war and the Islamist movement Hamas emerged as the leaders of resistance, ruling over a besieged Gaza strip.

Likewise in neighbouring Lebanon, an Islamist movement Hezbollah came to the fore and when the Zionist state’s forces invaded the south of the country the Israelis suffered a serious defeat, showing the world that Israel was not invincible and that their military actions would always be greeted with mass protests and resistance.

As a vicious revenge for its defeat the Israeli killing machine was turned loose on the population of the Gaza Strip after Christmas 2008, bombing civilians indiscriminately and causing terrible suffering and damage.

In the 2000s Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez became an increasingly radical figure as the forces of reaction tried to dispose of him. They almost succeeding in carrying out a palace coup had it not been for the mass movement of his supporters amongst the working class and the urban poor. Chávez increasingly described himself as leading a movement for what he called “21st century socialism”.

In Sri Lanka the decades long national liberation struggle of the Tamils, led by the LTTE or Tamil Tigers, ended in brutal defeat as the Sri Lankan army crushed the remaining fighters in the north of the country. The imposed peace on the Tamils saw hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians confined to concentration camps.

The decade also saw the emergence of China, increasingly acting like a global power, with the capacity to make or break crucial deals at world conferences like the recent COP15. With the decline of US hegemony a new round of imperialist jockeying for position has begun, with China intent on becoming an imperialist power and challenging the global hegemony of the US.

Finally, the spectacular near-collapse of the world banking system and financial markets in 2007-2008, triggered by the collapse of Lehman brothers, shook the self-confidence of the capitalists to the very core.

The survival of the system was brought into question as the neo-liberal dreams turned into nightmares for the world leaders and the class that they represent.

A decade of propaganda from the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund, that globalisation was gradually solving the world’s problems and making everyone richer was revealed to be a lie as the world governments had to rip up the neo-liberal rulebook and carry out massive state intervention to prop up their ailing system. The crisis in 2007 saw food riots break out in many countries as desperate people faced starvation.

So we leave the first decade of the new millennium having witnessed events that few could have predicted in 1999. Although there have been major successes, for the working class and all forces resisting imperialism and challenging capitalism, we nevertheless face the historic problems that have held it back from reaching its full potential.

The crisis of leadership, which Trotsky argued in 1938 was the crisis not just of the working class but the whole of humanity, is still central.

Bureaucratic conservative trade union functionaries and officials stifle and contain workers’ unrest in the face of the crisis, like the great waves of mass actions in France or the fight back against Agenda 2010 and Harz IV in Germany.

The old parties of the working class, the social democratic parties and Labour parties, hopelessly compromised by capitalism, gladly take money from their members only to attack their jobs and conditions when in government.

Historic breaks from the old reformist parties occurred as new Left parties were created across Europe, most notably in Portugal, France, Germany and Greece.

The future

The election of Barack Obama in November 2008 was seen by many as the light at the end of the tunnel for what had been a decade racked by conflict, war and increasing instability. He promised change, and it was a message that was welcomed not just in the USA, but across the world. But the change that he promised has not come.

Whilst the financial crisis was stabilised, the world recession still sees millions of workers across the world being added to the numbers of unemployed. The world was greeted with the absurd and surreal sight of President Obama making the case for continuing the war in Afghanistan whilst picking up his Nobel Peace Prize. Illusions in Obama and the Democrats still exist, but the test of reality is beginning to weaken them.

Figures were released late in 2009 that Britain's economic power over the entire was stagnating, with, on average, only 1.7 per cent GDP growth per year – its weakest economic performance since the Second World War. In the US the workforce has almost doubled since the 1970s, but the amount of exploitation has also increased dramatically, only helping to keep some businesses in profit because workers suffer longer hours and lower pay for harder work.

Resistance to the crisis started to take place across the world, strikes, protests and demonstrations of workers, youth, the unemployed, the poor, as they fight back against the growing inequalities of capitalism. This is the key feature that must be understood if we are to see an end to capitalism. The question now arises, how can the resistance be built, extended and deepened? How can the working class move from protest to power?

Late November and early December 2009 saw two events one of which recalled the past and the other perhaps signalled the future of internationalism in the 21st century. The first was the protests in Copenhagen around the COP15 climate summit. The second was Hugo Chávez's call for a “fifth international”.

The mobilisation of 100,000 demonstrators in Copenhagen in December, the brutality of the Danish police and the conflicts between the different groups of states in the conference centre, in a direct sense is the same movement that we saw at the battle in Seattle in 1999. They indicated that the worldwide forces of resistance to the malignant effects of global capitalism and imperialism have not gone away.

The second event points to the central political struggle going on right now, the question of forming a new organisation on a global scale, an International. When Hugo Chávez made his call for a Fifth International it shocked many, not least his erstwhile political allies in the Chávista movement. It was made in front of delegates from 39 countries attending an 'International Meeting of Parties of the Left' in Caracas on November 20th. Now a discussion has opened up about the prospects of such an International, what would it look like? Which politics should it be based on?

Of course revolutionary socialists must surely agree that we need an international party. Some still look back to the Fourth International founded in 1938, others are working to building a new working class international party. Central to this is the debate over programme, over strategic questions concerning how can we end capitalism, how can we win millions of people across the world to the struggle for socialism.

Revolutionary socialists certainly have fundamental disagreements with Chávez and his version of 21st century socialism, are opposed to any cross-class organisation and tying a new International to third world capitalist regimes like his own, but if his call leads to a global gathering of socialists in Caracas in April, as he has promised, then this certainly provides an opportunity to debate what socialism is but also represents an important arena in which to fight for a working class and revolutionary Fifth International.

Certainly the demonstrators on the streets of Copenhagen and the many millions globally who saw the COP15 conference end in failure, will start to wonder how our political leaders failed so spectacularly to find a plan to resolve one of the greatest threats to humanity, that of global warming and climate change.

Tied hand and foot to the capitalist system, they could not overcome their own national interests, could not escape the logic of capitalism and the market, the drive for profits. It becomes clearer every passing year that the capitalist class has no way out for the mess that its system has created.

Because just as the world’s poor in the global south are bearing the brunt of climate change as the world leaders flew home from Copenhagen in their private jets, so too the working class suffers the worst excesses of the market economy. World unemployment is growing as bosses lay off workers to try and claw back their profits, or save their ailing businesses. Everywhere the political leaders shake their heads and offer condolences and welfare to people who are suffering because of the greed of those in power.

As we enter a new decade, we are faced with the task of carrying on the fight against climate change and against the inequalities and ongoing crises of the system. The League for the Fifth International has a clear and powerful message and it is one that we will argue in every possible forum of struggle.

We believe that the global crash of 2008-09 has opened up a new historic period of crisis that will be filled with revolutionary and pre-revolutionary situations. This demands imperatively that the working class organises itself into new revolutionary political parties and an International, proclaiming as its open objective the taking of power and the construction of socialism.

This coming decade will see the hundredth anniversary of the 1917 revolution in Russia. This can be best celebrated by putting the fight for workers power and socialism once more on the agenda of humanity.