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Editorial: Fifth International 21

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First published in Fifth International 21.
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This edition of Fifth International contains a range of articles related to the “perfect storm” of crises wracking the globe, including the renewed inter-imperialist rivalry or new cold war, the decline of US imperialism and the attempts of three presidents to halt or reverse it.

In our last number, we dealt with the environmental crisis and its roots in imperialism. In this issue, we concentrate on the United States, its world role as well as the theoretical roots of a resurgent black radicalism and the rebirth of American “democratic socialism”. Another aspect of the multiple crises is the crisis of working class leadership, which has now engulfed new parties created over the last decade or so.

Recent incumbents of the White House have had to recognise the declining hegemony of their superpower and the threat posed by China to another American Century. Trump’s slogan, Make America Great Again and Biden’s America is Back, both bear witness to this. Yet, at the same time, we have witnessed powerful social movements in the country, which have had an influence around the world. Amongst these, Black Lives Matter has taken the lead in creating movements against racism in politics and culture.

In an article reviewing the main features of the world situation, Martin Suchanek examines the inter-related causes and effects of crisis in the economy, geopolitics the pandemic and climate change.
The over-accumulation of capital led to a declining rate of profit and tendency to stagnation, in marked contrast to the dynamism of China, that have driven the USA to measures of trade war, the opening salvoes of what many are calling a new cold war. In 2020–21, these problems have been exacerbated not only by the covid19 pandemic but by the rising number of extreme weather events on all continents, which announce the oncoming ecological catastrophe.

The article looks at how those events are felt differentially in the imperialist countries (now including China) and the semi-colonial world, issues that will face the COP 26 in Glasgow in November.
Finally, it looks at the varied movements of resistance that, despite the pandemic lockdowns, have erupted over the past two years.

These enormous global challenges, and the need for international resistance to them, give a new urgency for solutions that go far beyond the limits of what capitalism in its imperialist stage can do, and a new dimension to the alternative, socialism or barbarism.

In US Imperialism in Perspective, Moritz Sedlak looks at the unique combination of features that allowed for the rise of the US to world dominance; slavery, mass immigration, a huge domestic market, two world wars that established its economic dominance over the older colonial powers of Europe and ultimately its triumph in the Cold War. Ironically, the resulting global dominance encouraged the outsourcing of its industry, including high tech, to a China in which capitalism had been restored, accelerating its development into the new “workshop of the world” and a rival imperialism. After just three decades, America now finds itself faced with a rival for world domination. This fact will dominate the coming years and is another source of barbarism, regional and ultimately world war, unless the working class, in China and the USA as well as on the other continents, is able to uproot capitalism itself.

This brings us to the crises of leadership afflicting the workers’ movement worldwide, as well as the movements of nationally and racially oppressed peoples. The spontaneously militant youth of all these sectors have as yet proved tardy in even considering revolutionary socialism, (communism) as the potential guiding force for their struggles, not least because of the accumulated failures and betrayals of Social Democracy and Stalinism in their various avatars.

Nevertheless, the political ferment in the USA and the Black Lives Matter movement have revived a debate on the relation of black liberation and class politics to the so-called culture wars, which pit varieties of identity politics against attacks on the “the woke generation”.

In a review of Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition, by Cedric Robinson, Jeremy Dewar critiques a book, originally published in 1985 but republished in the UK in 2021 by Penguin, that has become influential since the resurgence of Black Lives Matter after the murder of George Floyd. He shows that, informative as the account of major Black thinkers from WEB Du Bois and CLR James to Richard Wright is, it is based on a faulty account of the history of anti-Black racism and an explicit rejection of Marxism, which inspired these key thinkers, for having failed to break definitively with “racial capitalism”.

Against this, Robinson believes that there is a collective black identity, a nationalism that is both universal and absolute, and that the white working class, because of its past benefits from slavery and colonialism, is unable to fully break from its imperialist masters. This leads him to reject the slogan “Workers of all Lands, Unite!” as a utopia and to replace it with an unreal and reactionary utopia for black workers and peasants across Africa as well as the Americas. In fact, the class enemies of those workers and peasants include their authoritarian and corrupt rulers, who are hand in hand not only with “white” Western multinationals but with a rising Chinese imperialism. Black people’s struggles are indeed, as we have seen with Black Lives Matter, an inspiration to “white” workers and youth and stand in the forefront of the struggle against an inherently racist capitalism and imperialism. To overthrow it requires the unity of the workers of all skin colours, all nations, sexes, sexualities and genders.

The Democratic Socialists of America, DSA, whose membership now tops 92,000 and whose unofficial journal and website, Jacobin, has international influence and imitators, is a striking phenomenon of the last decade. Andy Yorke critiques The Socialist Manifesto: The Case for Radical Politics in an Era of Extreme Inequality by Jacobin’s founder, Bhaskar Sunkara, which appeared in April 2019. This book has been widely read and discussed by the members of the DSA and was intended to educate them in what Sunkara identifies as Democratic Socialism.

Its early chapters consist of a popularly written history of the international socialist movement over the last two centuries. This will certainly be the first account many Americans will have had access to in mainstream bookstores. In it, he summarises appreciatively the works of Marx and Engels, Luxemburg, Kautsky, Lenin, Trotsky and other Bolsheviks, and Gramsci. But he starts with what he calls a “thought experiment” — a light-hearted go at a utopia, waking up in a Socialist America which turns out to be very like 1970s Sweden.

Though Sunkara gives a lively account of Marx, and the Marxists of the Second and Third Internationals, he comes down firmly on the side of European, particularly Scandinavian, Social Democracy, which he asserts was “the most humane social system ever constructed”. Whilst he recognises the failures, and even betrayals, of this tradition, he is nevertheless inspired by what he calls the “class struggle social democracy” of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn in the 2010s. Unfortunately, his book was published too early to analyse the failure and demise of these figures and their electoralist strategy.

The review reveals the superficial character of Sunkara’s dismissal of the revolutionary tradition of Lenin and Trotsky. His critique is all the less convincing since his own democratic socialism does not possess an instrument for its realisation, not even an electorally and organisationally independent working class party. Instead, the DSA and its dominant tendency around Jacobin, offer what is called a “dirty break” (that is, no break) from the Democrats, one of the two parties of US imperialism.

A more left wing version of the neo-socialism which flourished in the 2010s, a trend which included Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, as well as the ‘Corbynistas’ and the ‘Sanderistas’ in the Anglo-Saxon world, was France’s New Anticapitalist Party, NPA. An article co-authored by Marc Lasalle and Martin Suchanek, demonstrates from its crisis wracked decade how centrism (verbally revolutionary, even Trotskyist, but electoralist and trade unionist in practice) is doomed to failure. If no work is undertaken to develop a programme and it lacks unity based on democratic centralism then, even in a country like France that is rich in class struggles, a party like the NPA will fail to take advantage of the decrepit state of reformism to build a serious vanguard force that could challenge for power.

Last, but not least, Marcel Rajecky shows how the rising levels of inter-imperialist rivalry in the Middle East and Central Asia have allowed increased aggression by regional powers like Turkey and Iran. This study of the second war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, shows how fatal this is for the peoples and small nations caught up in these conflicts.