The Marxist method and the relevance of the era of crises, wars, and revolutions
The following text is an edited version of the opening report made by Emilio Albamonte at the Party of Socialist Workers (PTS) conference, which took place in Argentina on December 11–13. It addresses the theoretical and historical foundations for understanding the international situation. This includes the definition of the era of crises, wars, and revolutions as a strategic framework of the current crisis, and the concept of “capitalist equilibrium” to analyze the relationships between economics, geopolitics, and class struggle. It also looks at different responses to the crisis, as well as the questions the current stage poses for revolutionary Marxism.
To open the conference, I want to take up three questions. First, on the current world situation and the Marxist method for understanding it. I want to address the strategic problems and the structural tendencies. The document by Claudia Cinatti looks at the political problems and the current tendencies.[[Claudia Cinatti, “Elementos de caracterización y perspectivas de la situación internacional,” La Izquierda Diario, December 9, 2020.]]
The second question is to analyze different responses to this situation. This is going to look at theoretical debates with different currents — currents that are based in academia, which are generally petty bourgeois and anti-socialist. There are no, or rather there are very few, socialist and revolutionary Marxist tendencies at universities today. First it is necessary to understand what they are saying, then to debate with them theoretically from the standpoint of Marxism, and finally to discuss their program (if they raise a political program, because not all of them do so explicitly). Today we are going to analyze the so-called postcapitalist currents. Comrade Paula Bach has been studying these currents and is writing a book, and we are publishing a chapter of that book today.
Finally, I am going to speak about the situation of the proletariat, and our situation in general terms, beyond the political conjuncture, from a historical point of view, and why, from our perspective, the proletarian revolution, with all the difficulties it implies, is the only realistic solution to the crisis of capitalism. Not to the current crisis in particular but to the recurrent crises that capitalism keeps having, and that it may continue to have in the medium and long term. That is, a response to the fundamental tendencies of capitalism for which reformist currents of different types cannot offer a solution. These crises may find a short-term resolution, as many capitalist crises have had, but we need to analyze the international situation from a Marxist point of view, as Trotsky did, and I will refer to his method.
At the beginning of this century, the British Marxist Perry Anderson said that neoliberalism, with its policy of opening markets and globalization, had been the most successful ideology in world history. From the point of view of political and economic theories, Anderson appeared to be quite right, as neoliberalism could impose its common sense for a long time. Everyone thought in neoliberal terms, both in terms of their personal perspectives and in terms of the perspectives and limits that a country could adopt in economics, politics, and social issues.
Since the crisis of 2008, that has changed. For younger comrades who are not familiar with it, that major crisis discredited capitalism enormously. First, a number of credit institutions collapsed, threatening to create a “domino effect.” The crisis was linked to insurance companies and financial instruments. Under the leadership of Barack Obama (the patron of the president-elect Joe Biden), banks and corporations were rescued, at a cost of trillions of dollars worldwide, while millions and millions of people who had worked for years to buy a house were told that if they could not pay the mortgage, they would be thrown out. This is what happened. That is how capitalism resolved its crisis. Then the economy recovered in relative terms, but it never recovered precrisis levels in different indicators. Even before the pandemic, the growth in labor productivity, the rate of profit, etc., were declining for capitalism around the world. In a recent interview we did, the British Marxist Michael Roberts analyzes how the recovery that set in after 2008, even before the pandemic, included different stages: in a first stage, the central countries were hit hard, and in a second stage, China practically decoupled from the downward curve of the world economy, allowing it to avert a bigger catastrophe. This element, on top of the massive bailouts, is what helped to avert a crisis scenario like the one in the 1930s, when, for example, more than 8,000 banks collapsed in just a few years.
In 2008 they saved the banks and managed to avoid that scenario, but they prolonged an ongoing crisis, which became more serious with the pandemic as the economy ground to a halt, with not only political but also social consequences, as well as for the class struggle, as we will see. This is the crisis of neoliberalism, that successful ideology that Anderson described, that knew how to permeate the entire political spectrum, from the Right to the Center-Left.
The discrediting of this ideology and of the idea of globalization led to phenomena such as the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States with a discourse about recovering all the jobs that had been lost due to international free trade and globalization agreements, thus winning votes from unemployed workers in the Midwest. This is a phenomenon that was already developing in countries in Europe and other parts of the world, which was called “right-wing populism,” calling for a return to the “lost dominance” of the nation-state, so that international bodies and large corporations that had overtaken nation-states could be controlled at a national level. Trump ended up with only one term, and Biden won the election because Trump’s promises were not fulfilled, besides the worsening situation due to the coronavirus. This panorama is an expression of the weaknesses of the two currents that exist today in international neoliberalism: “right-wing populism,” which does not break with neoliberalism but rather negotiates its terms, and the more traditional neoliberalism expressed by the U.S. Democratic Party, Macron in France, Merkel in Germany, and even in China, etc., who are the defenders of neoliberal ideas in varying degrees.
The discrediting of neoliberalism and to a certain extent of capitalism itself is widespread, a product of the enormous inequalities created by the neoliberal offensive, which was a reaction around the world to workers’ wages, jobs, etc., and which enormously raised inequality. The current crisis, in the context of the coronavirus, has further aggravated the situation. For this year, the IMF predicts that world GDP will fall by 4.4 percent, which is an enormous number. This does not exclude the possibility of a recovery next year, but in a countries like Argentina, for example, which will fall between 10 and 12 percent, it will take several years to return to precrisis levels. In other words, we are facing a catastrophe for large sectors of the masses, and this has to be the starting point to understand the crossroads at which world capitalism finds itself.
Capitalism’s fundamental problem today is that it has shown itself incapable of generating new motors of capital accumulation. After the bureaucracies of the former bureaucratic workers’ states restored capitalism, capital found a new “virgin forest,” that is, a place to accumulate capital. It was the restoration in China that allowed capital to conquer a cheap labor force that lowered wages around the world for years. Now this countertendency is running out, not only because wages are rising in China but also because China is competing with the United States, with Germany, with the great powers. It has been transformed from a poor nation, a place for capital accumulation by the imperialist powers, to a nation that competes on the world market for opportunities for capital accumulation. Hence the tariffs and trade wars we have been seeing.
To summarize, the key is that capitalism succeeded in imposing that triumphant ideology that Perry Anderson spoke of, that became common sense for many people, not only as the result of a ruling-class offensive that defeated the proletariat in the West, but also by defeating the accumulated conquests represented in what we call degenerated and deformed workers’ states. These were put back into the terrain of capital accumulation, something that had not been accomplished in the Second World War. That is to say that capitalism won a new lease on life — one that is now exhausting itself. This exhaustion was shown in the crisis of 2008, and it can now be seen again.
To analyze the situation and separate ourselves from the different types of reformists, let us consider how Trotsky looked at the international situation: not as a sum of factors but as a structure in which the whole is more than the sum of its parts. This implies integrating into our analysis both the state of the world economy as well as geopolitics and the class struggle. And not as a sum, but always remembering that the class struggle is the defining element.
Trotsky explained that to analyze the international situation, we have to base ourselves on the economy, or rather, on ’the economy’s relationship with politics. For example, we are saying that capital has a problem with its accumulation — the financialization of the economy is the mirror image of that. But here, in addition to the economic problem, there is a political problem, because this is the basis of the conflicts between states, as we are witnessing between the U.S. and China. Trotsky says that these geopolitical tensions are key, because we have to analyze not only the corporations but also the states on which these corporations are based, and the geopolitical conflicts created by the economy. So the economy has problems valorizing capital,[[Capital is defined by Marx as “value in process,” meaning it is in permanent growth on the basis of extracting surplus value from the labor power that it exploits (the only source of all profit), which is what allows the original value to be valorized (increase its amount thanks to the surplus value extracted from labor power). Moreover, capital is “value in process” because it is compelled to increase the scale at which it operates via the reinvestment of surplus value. This reinvestment, which Marx referred to as “capital accumulation,” requires that there always be a sufficient mass of additional labor power available, and markets for all the goods produced. But even if these conditions are met, the accumulation of capital itself works against making the continuity of valorization possible: for Marx, one of the results of this accumulation is the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.]] and this is expressed in geopolitical tensions between states. This is where Trump comes in with his permanent discourse against China, which — beyond questions of forms and tactics — continues the strategic competition with China that was developed under Obama, which was called the Pivot to Asia to surround China. Obama’s policy was to create a kind of blockade, which was sometimes visible and sometimes not, from India, Indonesia, South Korea, to Australia. China, for its part, which could face strategic complications sooner rather than later due to the South China Sea, is creating artificial islands with weapons to confront an eventual war against it.
These geopolitical tensions do not necessarily take the form of military confrontations from the outset. They occur, Trotsky said, as “tariffs wars.” This is what Trump did against China, against cheap Chinese goods: the United States accepted them only on the condition that China increase its purchases of U.S. goods by $200 billion. For example, Claudia Cinatti’s article looks at the role being played by intermediate powers like Turkey, which is a member of NATO, the protective shield of the West. Due to conflicts in the Middle East and the U.S. withdrawal, Turkey has become a regional power. In the case of the war that recently took place in an area that was once part of the Soviet Union between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Turkey was key to tilting the balance of forces in Azerbaijan’s favor. Wars such as these can open up situations whose results are often unpredictable.
Trotsky synthesized this method to analyze the world situation in the 1920s. Starting from the global expansion of capitalism and the emergence of the imperialist era, the contradiction sharpened between increasingly internationalized means of production with their corporations, and the nation-state as a space where the relations of production are articulated. A corporation like Amazon, for example, has 1.2 million employees worldwide. This type of multinational corporation has to fight for domination of the world market and impose its policy on different states, which often oppose it. These corporations opposed Trump because they believed that he was disrupting trade relations, but they favor a plan — whether it comes from Republicans or Democrats — to prevent China from developing cutting-edge technologies like 5G, and to prevent China from turning into a great power, from developing its most imperialist traits, and this could translate into competition for the biggest corporations like Google, Facebook, etc., which China has barred from its territory. The problem is that it is an international struggle to determine which monopoly will prevail and which states will prevail. At the same time, there is an internal economic contradiction: the corporations of a country can, in certain cases, surpass the states. These corporations demand that their states lower taxes, but at the same time, they make enormous profits abroad with hundreds of thousands of employees and do not reinvest these profits in their own countries. This creates a problem for the capitalist states themselves of how to manage a country with weak hegemony to generate minimal conditions for preventing revolts from breaking out — and, in perspective, revolutions.
Trotsky said it was necessary to analyze the economic foundation; how geopolitical tensions — tariffs, trade, etc. — were expressed in each moment, and when they threatened to turn into military struggle; and the class struggle. In other words, there could be no Marxist analysis that did not include all three elements. Linked to this method, Trotsky developed the concept of “capitalist equilibrium” to oppose the mechanistic idea that capitalism was in a permanent global crisis that was constantly getting deeper and deeper. In 1921, Trotsky defined the concept thus:
<blockquote>Capitalist equilibrium is an extremely complex phenomenon. Capitalism produces this equilibrium, disrupts it, restores it anew in order to disrupt it anew, concurrently extending the limits of its domination. In the economic sphere these constant disruptions and restorations of the equilibrium take the shape of crises and booms. In the sphere of inter-class relations the disruption of equilibrium assumes the form of strikes, lockouts, revolutionary struggle. In the sphere of inter-state relations the disruption of equilibrium means war or — in a weaker form — tariff war, economic war, or blockade. Capitalism thus possesses a dynamic equilibrium, one which is always in the process of either disruption or restoration. But at the same time this equilibrium has a great power of resistance, the best proof of which is the fact that the capitalist world has not toppled to this day.[[Leon Trotsky, “Report on the World Economic Crisis and the New Tasks of the Communist International,” part I, June 1921, in The Third International after Lenin, 1929.]]</blockquote>
Without taking these three elements into account, we will have not Marxist analyses but rather disjointed analyses that offer us no power of foresight. Trotsky said that leadership meant foresight. But that does not mean fortune telling — rather it means the capacity to observe the most profound tendencies: Are there tendencies toward the stabilization of capitalist equilibrium in the world? That is one type of situation. Are there tendencies toward breaking the equilibrium? That is a different situation. What can break the equilibrium? The economy, the interstate struggle, the class struggle, or all three? Analyzing that, in general terms, moves us away from discussing current events. It is like a computer to analyze what happens in the world, and it helps us understand its problems and tensions. Many of us use this method, but we have to explain it to new layers of militants who are beginning to participate in the class struggle alongside us.
What do we mean when we say it is necessary to look at the contradiction that exists between the class struggle, the economy, and interstate struggles dialectically, in order to avoid succumbing to simplistic visions that prevent us from understanding reality? We emerged from the old Movement for Socialism (MAS), a Trotskyist party led by Nahuel Moreno. The MAS saw the map of the world situation from the 1920s to the 1940s as a black map: defeat in China, defeat in Spain, fascism in Germany, etc. And from 1945 onward, it saw a red map: expropriation of the bourgeoisie in China, Yugoslavia, Hungary, etc. But was there really a “black map” from the 1920s to the 1940s and a “red map” in the postwar period? Let’s see.
Indeed, between the 1920s and the 1940s there were enormous revolutionary struggles and enormous defeats. In 1925–27, there was the revolution in China when the workers and peasants went north, following the bourgeois general Chiang Kai-shek, to liquidate the feudal lords. Once the “warlords” were defeated, Chiang Kai-Shek no longer had any use for the Communist Party, which had supported him without criticism. So Chiang Kai-shek executed thousands of workers from the vanguard, and the bourgeois government took over part of northern China. In the novel Man’s Fate, Malraux recounts how they were thrown into the boilers of locomotives. In other words, it was a great struggle and a great defeat.
In 1931 the Spanish Revolution began: the government of the Bourbon monarchy fell, and the republicans won the elections. The anarchists, a large movement that organized sectors of the masses, launched a revolutionary process that led to an insurrection in Asturias in the north of Spain in 1934. The government of the Republic was right-wing, and it killed thousands and imprisoned tens of thousands. This provoked a reaction that led to the triumph of a class-collaborationist government called the Popular Front. Then a civil war broke out in which the forces of General Franco rose up and attempted to overthrow the republican government. The anarchists, the communists — who were few in number — and the socialists in the cities where they were stronger, including Barcelona and Madrid, went to confront the army with razorblades, knives, and guns, and in many cases they defeated it. It was an enormous revolutionary struggle. But instead of going all the way and taking power for the workers, Stalinism supported the government of the Republic, at the service of the bourgeoisie, which led to Franco’s victory over the Spanish working class. There was a revolution lasting four or five years and a civil war lasting three years that ended in a great defeat.
These are just a few examples, not even mentioning the rise of fascism. In Germany, there had already been defeats of the revolutionary movement in 1919, 1921, and 1923, and after the crisis of the 1930s the fascists grew strong. Stalinism’s policy in Germany was not to fight for the unity of social democratic and communist workers in order to struggle together against the fascist danger that threatened to destroy the unions, the workers’ clubs, cooperatives, etc., that is, to reduce the working class to an amorphous mass with no possibility of defending itself; far from it, Stalinism argued that the social democrats are every bit as much enemies as the fascists, and this allowed Hitler to triumph. Not only that, but it opened the way for the much greater carnage of the Second World War, the first truly planetary war, in which battles take place in the USSR, China, Japan, Europe, and even Africa; even Brazil participated with 20,000 soldiers who landed on the coasts of Sicily. The United States put all its industry in the service of the war to beat the German, Japanese, and Italian imperialists, who were challenging the world order.
Thus we see that the map of the years from 1920 to 1940 was marked by great revolutionary processes and great defeats provoked by the leaderships of the mass movements, and this culminated in a world war. Nonetheless, we cannot analyze this in an isolated way and confine ourselves to painting the map black. The first thing we should ask ourselves is why this panorama did not leave the whole world enslaved at the end of the world war. That did not happen because the Soviet Union had emerged; it had regressed in its accomplishments, but to beat opposing imperialists, the U.S. needed to give tactical support to the USSR. So the U.S. refitted its entire industry and began producing weapons. The production of airplanes went from 3,000 a year in 1939 to more than 300,000 five years later. These airplanes were sent to the front to support their English and French allies — France was occupied — as well as the Soviet Union, because “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” at least for a few years. Thus they supported the Soviet Union, and when the world war ended, the Soviet Union had defended itself — despite the disastrous leadership of Stalin, who did not prepare but rather boycotted the defense against the Nazi invasion, leading to 20 million dead — and ended up occupying Eastern Europe and part of Germany. Not only did the Soviet Union remain, but China, which had been disputed between the imperialist powers (one of the causes of the world war) saw the triumph of the revolution. The peasants who had suffered terrible famines during the war rose up and later supported the policy of Mao Tse-tung. They carried out the agrarian reform and killed not only the warlords and the landlords but also the usurers who had their debts written down in their books. An uncontrollable wave brought Mao to power. Mao did not want that — rather, he wanted a coalition government with Chiang Kai-shek — but the masses pushed him to take power.
To understand all this, it is necessary to dialectically integrate the entirety of the contradictions that were running through the world situation. If we analyze only economy or the interstate conflict, and do not see the decisive role of the class struggle, then we are going to be surprised by victories that are transformed into defeats — like the great revolutions of the 1920s and 1920s, due to the problem of leadership of the working class — and by terrible defeats that are transformed into enormous revolutions by the action of the masses, due to the suffering caused by war. This is why Lenin has that famous saying that revolutionary situations — in general, not even referring to war — take place when there is suffering that is more acute than usual; this strikes at the subjectivity of the masses who are drawn into action. Sometimes they push the bureaucracy to carry out tasks that it does not want to carry out, and sometimes they manage to overcome the bureaucracy, as in the Russian Revolution, when the masses brought the Bolsheviks to power.
If we approach the world situation by integrating the economy, geopolitics, and class struggle, then we see the following between 1920 and 1940: in the economy, the crisis of the 1930s; regarding geopolitics, we see Germany — which had been destroyed after the First World War — defying the world order alongside Japan and Italy, and these tensions led to war. In other words, economic problems, geopolitical problems. And the workers’ movement, which appeared to be defeated, comes out of the war with a much more contradictory result. The USSR not only maintained its territory but advanced toward the Balkans and Eastern Europe, and even occupied half of capitalist Germany, a result which no one had expected. China made an enormous revolution. The U.S. had a great triumph in the West, but with the contradiction that at the end of a war that had been started in order to conquer greater spaces for the valorization of capital, the planned economies, although they were bureaucratic, had expropriated the capitalists, and the degenerated and deformed workers’ states removed a third of humanity from the valorization of capital.
Now, does this mean that the map was being painted more and more red? If we look at the world situation from the perspective of geopolitics, of interstate competition between two systems, then this “red map” existed. In those countries, however, it was impossible to develop socialism “in one country” on the basis of national versions of Stalinism because, in the final analysis, that is the opposite of internationally uniting the productive forces, which would make it possible to radically reduce working hours and advance toward a society of free producers, as Marx had put it. All the ideologies of class collaborationism that form the basis of not only reformism but also of the common sense of the parties call themselves communist, these ideologies completely opposed “painting the map red.” This map was full of states that called themselves socialist — even African states that called themselves socialist — but which, from the perspective of the class struggle, were preparing the catastrophe that was neoliberalism, when all these bureaucracies that led those states appropriated public goods and made themselves oligarchs by crushing the working people. The restoration of capitalism in Russia, for example, led to a drop in workers’ life expectancy by 10 years — a counterrevolutionary operation that can usually be achieved only with wars. There it was achieved without any war — just by the surrender of the bureaucracy that led the USSR.
If our analysis does not integrate the different dimensions and the decisive role of the class struggle, then we cannot understand what happened. Even Trotsky believed that in the heat of the Second World War, Stalin could be overthrown, because of all the disasters he had caused in preparing the war. But he was not overthrown; Stalin emerged from the war victorious and extended the prestige of the planned (bureaucratically deformed) economy. The economy of the Soviet Union grew steadily. Allied with China, it began to grow and challenge the world order. Anyone who had not analyzed the class struggle would not have seen, for example, that the Communist Party, which at the beginning of the war refused to fight the Nazis because it wanted to delay the war against the Soviet Union, later launched what are called the maquis, a resistance that became massive in the years 1943–44, based on workers who organized themselves in clandestine cells to fight the Nazis. So whoever does not see the class struggle, the implications it has, that it is ultimately decisive, cannot understand how after 20 years of horrendous defeats and carnage, the biggest in the history of humanity, the results of the class struggle mean that the Chinese peasants and workers can take advantage of the situation to seize power and enter Beijing in January 1949, while the USSR can extend its territory by occupying all of Eastern Europe. But at the same time, Stalinism, thanks to the prestige of the Red Army that defeated the Nazis, became a mass force in the West, with enormous Communist Parties that were key to diverting and defeating the enormous revolutionary processes at the end of the war in France, Italy, and Greece.
So did the proletariat win or lose in the world war? It definitely managed to avoid defeat. There was a triumph in that the institutions that the workers’ movement had created with revolutions, even with deformed revolutions, were maintained. But did the working class triumph, or was it defeated? The answer is that the resolution was postponed. What resulted was the so-called Yalta Order. In the city of Yalta, the imperialist Winston Churchill, the imperialist Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the “leader of the proletariat” of the whole world, Stalin, agreed to divide the world into zones of influence and not start a new war — to compete, but peacefully; what the Stalinists called “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism. At the same time, the Communist Parties in the West were growing because of the prestige of the Soviet Union, and they were put at the service of stopping all revolutionary processes.
When the world war ended under these conditions, the United States, and above all Churchill, proposed the policy of “containment.” It was a matter of launching a “cold war” and discrediting the communist system. Even imperialism had to continue fighting to define the margins of the Yalta order, with partial wars such as the Korean War, the Vietnam War, etc., to maintain it. For 40 years the possibility of nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was discussed. It was a “cold war” that could become “hot.” In 1962, with the Cuban missile crisis, the world was on the verge of a nuclear war. We said that one third of humanity had left the area of capital valorization. Therefore the U.S. set out to reconstruct the defeated powers like Germany and Japan. Later, starting in the 1970s, these powers began to compete with the U.S. and created the basis for the recurrent crises that we are experiencing.
By 1973–74 capitalism began to experience an important crisis, which became generalized as “the oil crisis.” The Arab states — some of which were U.S. allies — no longer wanted to sell oil to the United States. There are many conspiracy theories about their motives, but in any case this created an energy crisis, with fuel prices rising terribly, which provoked a generalized crisis of world capitalism.
At the same time, an ascendant cycle of the class struggle came to an end. This had been going on since the 1960s, and was inaugurated in Latin America with the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Guevarism ended up having a lot of influence. But in the countries of Europe, where the working class had greater influence, there were enormous proletarian actions like the French May 1968 or the strikes in Italy from 1968 to 1973, where a good part of the proletariat organized itself under the leadership of the operaists. In Italy the workers from the South were considered “second-class” compared to those of the North, who were more well-off. This was the position of the Communist Party, like all bureaucracies. So the operaists, using the slogan that the workers from the South should earn the same as those from the North, organized enormous actions. Capitalism defeated this movement because the leadership of the Communist Party, which had millions of votes and led tons of unions, had voted for the policy of the “historic compromise” with the Socialist Party and Christian Democracy party to see if they would be allowed to enter the government. But the regime considered them “agents” of the USSR, so they were not let in. Faced with this policy by the PCI, militarist strategies were developed, which were an easier enemy to defeat than the ascent of the class struggle in the 1970s. In Latin America, the defeats of this period were imposed with figures like Pinochet and Videla, with dictatorships that killed tens of thousands of people, which formed the foundation of neoliberalism. This is how neoliberalism begins. They tell the masses: “You wanted to build socialism by peaceful means like in Chile … well, here is your answer.” The answer was state terrorism, attacks on workers’ living conditions, etc. They managed to stop these enormous revolutionary processes not because the workers were unwilling to struggle, but because of the parties that had emerged and the policies they had. We will return to this problem later — the problem of reformism.
Now, what had imperialism learned from the end of the Second World War, in which it had lost wide zones of capital accumulation? It had learned that the best thing to do, alongside military and economic competition, was to develop as far as possible the idea of buying off the leaders of the enemy class. This was a problem that had already been discussed by Marxists, as with Gramsci’s concept of transformismo. The co-optation and corruption of leaders became generalized after the Second World War. The big Communist Parties, the socialists, the bourgeois nationalists (like Peronism in Argentina) built up tightly knit organizations to divide the working class. What more does the bourgeoisie want than for the workers to see those “from below” as enemies, and to identify their interests with those “from above”! This is how bourgeois democracy works, based on the middle layers. With this ideology — which was extended in depth by neoliberalism — different organizations of the bureaucracy, of the social movements, of the church, etc., can divide the working people into different sectors that compete with each other.
The Yalta order had been marked by the triumph of the Soviet Union and the Chinese Revolution, and capitalism faced limits to its accumulation in a third of the globe. This began to change in the 1970s. With the “oil crisis,” a whole series of crises began that were “solved” with generalized reaction, with imperialism turning to the bureaucratic workers’ states and saying, “If these leaders in China are Stalinist bureaucrats, why are we only going to threaten them with war? We can also buy them off.” Thus, taking advantage of the crises generated by the bureaucracy itself, which was undermining the foundations of the Chinese deformed workers’ state, imperialism offered investments in exchange for resuming its plunder. First there were “special zones” open to capitalism; later the Communist Party led China to become a savage “state capitalism.” Millions of workers in China live by working from dawn to dusk in conditions of quasi-slavery. Who is responsible for this “miracle” of transforming people into slaves? The Chinese Communist Party — which in the first stage, with the triumph of the revolution, had managed to overcome the famine in China via a planned economy, with the distribution of working hours so that everyone could have their bowl of rice and the peasants would not die of hunger. Then they used that prestige to restore capitalism. Today, China has the largest number of billionaires in the world, more than the United States. This phenomenal “success” could only be achieved by a bureaucracy like that of the Chinese CP, which controls the state.
This is why we have discussed the relationship between Trotsky and Gramsci — there are the writings of Juan Dal Maso, for example — and we discuss the mechanisms behind “consensus”: when it sometimes appears as if nothing is moving, nothing is happening, the bureaucracies are behind this, who do not call for any actions, and who allow the bosses to fire people or lower wages, etc., without doing anything. These large bureaucracies maintain “social peace,” but nevertheless discontentment often grows from below. Consensus is not spontaneous. It is not that people say “I love being exploited.” No, most workers refuse to have their wages lowered, refuse to have their working conditions worsened. But unions in Argentina, under the presidency of Menem in the 1990s, get money for social programs and use it to maintain an enormous caste of bureaucrats, betraying their members and social base.
Neoliberalism was a reactionary solution to the indeterminate relation of forces resulting from the contradictory outcome of the Second World War, which had been deferred by the Yalta order, hence its historical significance. It was imposed by dictatorships in Latin America — in Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, etc. — that were used as an “example.” They defeated very powerful strikes like that of the British miners, the strikes in Italy, the air traffic controllers’ strike under the Reagan government that had paralyzed the U.S. economy. They defeated these and many other processes, and then spread to China, achieving an important period of relative stability that was called “neoliberalism.” And they imposed that ideology that would become “the most successful in history,” as Perry Anderson said. This is what became exhausted in 2008.
The entire neoliberal period was nonetheless marked by recurrent major crises, like the Mexican peso crisis in 1994, the Asian financial crisis in 1997, and the Russian financial crisis in 1998. Then came the dot-com bubble that created a new crisis in 2001–2. This was followed by the real estate bubble and the unprecedented expansion of financial assets, which is precisely what burst in the crisis of 2008. Then came the huge state bailouts of banks and corporations, and thus we arrive at the current crisis.
Capitalism developed countertendencies in the face of the difficulties it was facing for the valorization of capital. But what we are seeing today is that all the countertendencies that were implemented during the neoliberal era are being exhausted or are virtually exhausted. Neoliberalism was based, as we said, on the conquest of new spaces, thanks to the restoration of capitalism in the former bureaucratic workers’ states. But this transformed into the rise of China, which is now competing in international markets. It used the incorporation of hundreds of millions of workers from China, India, and other countries into a global labor market to lower real wages around the world and increase profits. But capitalism nonetheless now lacks sufficient opportunities for profitable investment.
These elements, among others, show us that despite all the conquests of neoliberalism, it is still becoming increasingly difficult for capital to be valorized. When the economy falters, when capital does not find enough cheap labor, when it has increasing difficulties in valorization, then fundamental solutions are imposed. We will return to this later.
To summarize, I have aimed to show that the world situation is a structure in which the result is more than the sum of its parts: economy, interstate struggle, and class struggle, with the ultimate decision given by the class struggle. A Prussian general, a theorist of war, Carl von Clausewitz — whom Matías Maiello and I have studied — says that war begins when the weak decide to accept the challenge. And this is true. Translated to the class struggle, we could say that if working people are convinced that there is no possibility of victory — and this is what the reformist bureaucracies and leaderships of the world proletariat try to accomplish — then there is often no class war. But if the proletariat believes it has a chance, it can work miracles. This is a key element of Trotskyist theory: that the proletariat can work miracles if it puts up a fight.
Hence the importance of the method outlined by Trotsky. It is an error to look only at interstate relations, or only at the economy, or only the economy, or only the class struggle without taking the objective factors into account — just looking at the objective factors would also be an error. We must always analyze the predominant structure, the class struggle. This method is very important for analyzing the world situation, as well as the national situation, as we have tried to do in the documents written for this conference of the PTS.
In the context of recurring crises, the idea of “postcapitalism” has become more common because capitalism has been seen in a negative light since 2008, which is an important change from the situation of extreme isolation in which we revolutionaries found ourselves in the previous period. That period was defined not only by a crisis of leadership — because the bureaucracies that we described previously were at the head of the working class — but also by a crisis of subjectivity. The proletariat considered itself defeated and believed it could not fight any more. The year 2008 marked a turning point. At the beginning of 2011, Matías Maiello and I wrote an article titled “At the Limits of the ‘Bourgeois Restoration’” to reflect on this shift with its economic, social, and political consequences. At that moment, the Arab Spring — which was defeated — was developing alongside other processes that marked a return to a level of class struggle that had not been seen for 20 years. This included the indignados in the Spanish State, the 2013 protests in Brazil, etc. A new wave began in 2018 that had its epicenter in France, with the Yellow Vests, and one year later with the struggle against the pension reform with the strike by railway and bus workers that lasted for almost two months. This cycle ranged from countries in North Africa, passing through the Middle East and even Hong Kong, to Europe and Latin America, and threatens to resurge at an expanded scale, including no more and no less than the United States.
Amid the crisis of neoliberal hegemony, there are different currents known as “postcapitalists” who take certain elements of modern capitalism in isolation and imagine capitalism ending by itself, that is, evolutionarily overcoming itself as a product of its own tendencies. In our weekly magazine Ideas de Izquierda we have published different polemics with these currents. The latest includes articles by Paula Bach and Matías Maiello. I am interested in these currents not so much because they are going to develop as reformist political currents, but because they can provide a foundation for reformism. In themselves these currents do not have rounded-out programs. Many share the illusion of some kind of “universal basic income” or “citizen’s income,” which is a sort of generalized social plan;[[Translator’s note: Since 2002, the Argentinean state has provided unemployment benefits known as “social plans” that are distributed via the organizations of unemployed workers.]] in many cases they propose an amount that would correspond to a minimally dignified income, but ultimately, this is a demand to pressure the capitalist state to give what it can — they know that the capitalists are inflexible and are not going to give anything more than we win in struggle. Beyond this, what I want to dwell on is the theoretical basis of their postulates.
A fairly widespread idea among these currents is that we are living through a qualitative leap in technological development that unstoppably lowers production costs. This makes the end of work imminent, as a result of automation, artificial intelligence, advances in robotics, etc. Indeed, scientific and technological advances are a fact. But as Trotsky said, “Capitalism has been unable to develop a single one of its trends to the ultimate end.”
It is a mistake to isolate this development from the entirety of the economy, geopolitics, and the class struggle. This is because technological advances and labor automation are intertwined with capitalist profits, and with the state as a guarantor of these profits. It suffices to mention the trade war between the United States and China, in which one of the fundamental elements is the dispute over 5G technology, and the aim of preventing technological developments that could affect economic and geopolitical competition. On the other hand, many of the potential technological developments, and even more so those related to the health and welfare of the big majorities, which demand investments of large quantities of capital, are not profitable for the capitalists. In this framework, there can be no evolutionary development of capitalism — there are only recurrent, catastrophic crises.
The development of technology would make it possible to produce the same thing with less work. But capital needs more and more workers in increasingly precarious conditions to increase its profits, since the only source of its profits is precisely the unpaid labor that is stolen from the workers through the exploitation of their labor power. Therefore, for the capitalists labor power is a “cost” that they want to reduce, but at the same time they cannot do without it because it is the only source of genuine profit. This means that, far from the “end of work” that so many theoreticians have hurried to announce, there is in fact more and more precarization of labor. On the one hand, the masses of underemployed and unemployed workers grow, and on the other, more workers have exhausting workdays. The capitalists do not care about the usefulness of the things they produce for satisfying needs. What they care about is the profit they make by producing a certain commodity. This profit does not come from the machines — they do not create new value — but from the unpaid labor time stolen from the workers.
Indeed, one of the technological advances that is now a foundation for many new technologies is the Internet, which is of military origin. What is the Internet used for? To solve the problem of hunger, to reduce people’s work hours, to revolutionize transport, making it more collective and friendly to the environment? No. One of the main things it is used for is advertising. So every year a new iPhone comes out with small changes so people have to buy it. The development of maddening advertising is intended to get people to buy a product even if it does not express any real need besides that of the capitalists to fill their pockets. This is what the great Internet revolution has primarily been dedicated to. Another fundamental use is the entertainment industry. Marxists, of course, do not oppose entertainment, but capital has transformed it into a key industry that consumes enormous amounts of human labor, into which it pours billions of dollars. So the Internet is used for entertainment, advertising, etc., but not, for example, to solve the problem of hunger, housing, and other problems that affect the working class.
One thing is the introduction of a technology or machinery in itself — technology under the management of capital is quite another. Automation is not a phenomenon that can be analyzed separately from capitalism’s social relations of production. As Marx points out in Capital, the contradictions and antagonisms that come from the introduction of machinery do not come from the machinery itself but from the use that the capitalist makes of it. Considered by itself, machinery reduces labor time, but when capitalists use it, it prolongs labor time. Machinery itself facilitates labor, but when used by the capitalists, it increases the intensity of labor. Considered by itself, machinery increases the wealth of producers, but when it is used by the capitalists, it impoverishes them. In other words, machinery facilitates labor, but under the command of capital, it is used to squeeze out every last drop of sweat from the workers. The same machinery that could increase the wealth of the producers creates, when used by the capitalists, a generation of millions of unemployed workers who have to compete for the same job, a question that the capitalists use to pressure employed workers — who become more conservative for fear of losing their jobs.
Different postcapitalist authors refer to Marx’s statement in the Grundrisse that capitalism, with the development of science, of social cooperation and exchange, tends to diminish the amount of labor that is socially necessary to produce and reproduce what society needs for its existence. But they omit precisely the other fundamental part of Marx’s statement in the Grundrisse: that capitalism, at the same time, seeks to convert this “free time” into surplus labor, that is, into capitalist profit. Therefore, although technological development can potentially lead to a drastic reduction in working hours and create free time for creative leisure in art, science, and culture, this is possible only on the condition of ending capitalist private property of the means of production and planning the economy rationally and democratically according to social needs.
Capitalism, as Trotsky said, cannot develop a single one of its tendencies to the end. Therefore, to valorize capital in the face of the advances of automation and the fall in the rate of profit in the central countries, neoliberal capitalism expanded strongly toward China to obtain cheap labor, and in this way not only “reduce costs” but also use it to lower the wages of the proletariat around the world. The expansion to China was accompanied by an increase in the exploitation of workers in the West. There were two complementary movements: more intense work with machinery and technology in the West, and moving the most labor-intensive activities to China. This is the great secret of so-called globalization. For 20 years China provided products that would have cost much more to produce in the United States. They were much cheaper in China because it had an ultra-precarious labor force coming from the countryside. At the same time, this gave imperialist capital opportunities for accumulation. The Chinese bureaucracy achieved the monstrosity of generating a capitalism a thousand times more savage than that which the struggles of the Western proletariat managed to out the brakes on. This bureaucracy, sooner or later, is not only going to have to confront processes of strikes, as break out periodically in China, but also processes of organization by the working class against the prohibition of organizing unions without going through the filter of the Communist Party.
We cannot look at all the theories of the “postcapitalists” here — not even close. Paula Bach is finishing a book about the scientific discussion of these issues that we will be publishing next year. On the other hand, I am taking for granted the idea that machinery does not create new value, and that only human labor can do so. For more on this, I recommend the classes on Capital that you can find on the La Izquierda Diario Virtual Campus. What I want to emphasize here is that the idea that informs all postcapitalist theories — that of an evolutionary development of technology within capitalism that in a certain moment would generalize automation and emancipate labor — is wrong, from Marx’s point of view, and contradicts the tendencies of modern capitalism.
Some “postcapitalist” authors speak of “leftist miserabilism,” referring to the administration of social plans as the preferred activity of many currents on the Left. They contrast this with the development of new technologies that would tend to generate abundance. For our part, we have always strongly criticized the fact that the majority of the Left dedicates important efforts to administering state assistance, establishing front organizations of their parties in which the beneficiaries must sign up. In contrast to this, we call for a unified movement of unemployed workers with freedom for all political tendencies and the self-administration of the benefits by the unemployed workers themselves. But in the case of the “postcapitalists,” not only do they have an idea of abundance based on new technologies that is separated from the private property of the means of production, which for us is the fundamental problems, but despite their criticism of “miserabilism,” they end up reproducing a similar scheme via the idea of “universal basic income” as a way to pressure the state. Thus, beyond this or that critique of capitalism, they want to forbid any thought of revolution and any fundamental solution on a socialist basis, which is the only coherent solution in the face of the contradiction between the misery of the broad masses and the potential of the advances in technology and science. This means calling for the working class to set up its own state and appropriate the means of production, as well as all technological advances so they can be put in the service of reducing working hours. The goal is for work as an imposition to represent an ever smaller fraction of the activities of human beings and for all human creativity to be liberated, which is the aim of the communist movement.
Hence the poverty of the postcapitalists’ theories, which deny the perspective of a socialist workers’ revolution. They tell us that, while we wait for technological development to liberate humanity by itself, we have to accept that social wealth is concentrated by a handful of capitalists who have the same wealth as half of humanity. We are to be satisfied with at most a “universal basic income” or a “citizen’s income” that would be a kind of generalization of improved unemployment benefits.
Thomas Piketty, who is not a “postcapitalist” but rather a mainstream economist, argues that neoliberalism has driven capitalism’s tendency to concentrate wealth in the hands of a few billionaires to the extreme. This has made a sector of the middle class richer, while big majorities are separated from those sectors by an ever-wider gap. It is not that living standards have necessarily fallen sharply. But if the capitalists increased their wealth by 100,000, then most working people saw theirs increase by 1, if at all. In other words, it is an enormous increase in inequality, which is the key to neoliberalism and is recognized as such by most people. Faced with this, Piketty argues that since there are a few who have so many billions, who have accumulated so much wealth, while workers are crowded into slums — a “planet of slums,” where more than a billion people live, as Mike Davis called it — Piketty calls for the capitalists to pay more taxes to give something to the broad masses.
What makes us revolutionaries, and not evolutionary reformists, is that we believe that there can be no solution without expropriating the social means of production from the capitalists. But because this idea is forbidden in academic discourse, Piketty proposes an alternative for reducing inequality without ending capitalist private property, namely the introduction of a 90 percent tax rate. So his assumption is that bourgeois like Jeff Bezos, Marcos Bulgueroni, and Paolo Rocca would peacefully accept a 90 percent tax rate — which is ridiculous. Just look at what happened in Argentina in 2008 when the government tried to modestly increase the tax on exports of soy when the price per ton was at $600. The rural bourgeoisie basically staged an insurrection. To impose a 90 percent tax on the big bourgeoisie would require a revolution. But if we need a revolution, why would we leave the big means of production and exchange, the factories, transport, etc., in the hands of the capitalists, instead of putting everything in the service of production for the working class, which is the aim of socialism?
This is very important for us in the PTS because the last couple of years in Argentina have not seen much class struggle, and the advance of the Left was closely linked to the Workers Left Front (FIT), which is an electoral front that doesn’t speak about revolution much because the idea of revolution is not yet understood by the broad masses. But as Marx and Engels said, communists cannot hide their communist views and aims from the masses; they who do so cease to be communists. So we have to wrack our brains to figure out how to express our communism in a popular way, even if we cannot yet transform it into mass agitation. To give an example, the campaign we did to “reduce working hours, so everyone can work, and work less” aimed precisely at discussing the need to reduce the time that people spend working — the need to take the advances in science, technology, and the division of labor out of the hands of capital in order to advance toward a society liberated from necessity, to overcome work as an opposition, which could work wonders that are inconceivable today.
It is clear that there are 1 percent of capitalists who base themselves on 20 percent of upper-middle class people. In Argentina, this sector is represented by the right-wing party PRO, and together with people who identify with this program, they reach 40 percent of the population and buy into the idea of individual progress (“I want to accumulate,” “I want to have,” etc.), for whom these ideologies are functional. The assertions that there is a possibility of overcoming capitalism via reforms, either by the universal use of machines run by capital, or by raising taxes on capital, are utopian plans that serve to divert us, ultimately, from a perspective of proletarian revolution.
The imperialist war of 1914 marked the beginning of the “era of crises, wars, and revolutions,” as Lenin called it. From 1899 to 1902, there took place the so-called Second Boer War, in which the English killed the Dutch settlers of southern Africa, and that began the turn into a larger war. From 1904 to 1905, the war between the Russian and Japanese Empires take place, in the course of which the Russian Revolution of 1905 broke out. From 1912 to 1913, the Balkan Wars took place, in which the Slavs and the Muslim population killed each other (Trotsky was a prominent chronicler of these wars). The revolutionary wing of the Second International had crossed swords with revisionism, which believed that capitalism would become more peaceful — like today’s “postcapitalists.” But the revolutionaries reached their main conclusions about the era only once the war was imminent or actually began. For example Lenin’s fundamental writings, such as Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, or his notebooks o Clausewitz, etc., were written only after the outbreak of war in 1914. And we are talking about one of the most outstanding revolutionaries of the 20th century. This needs to serve as a warning to us, that we need to sharpen our vision, starting with everything that has been developed by Marxism, to have a full perspective of the period we are living in.
The big problem is to not repeat things mechanically. In the 1930s, unemployment was higher than today, and great defeats took place. In this context, there were great masses of marginalized people because capitalism had a surplus of cheap labor, but it could not valorize capital. Nonetheless, the capitalists have an effective solution for this, which is very hard to lead politically and socially, but is effective: war, including nuclear war. In the postwar period, the hypothesis of a nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia was discussed in terms of “mutually assured destruction”: if, for example, the U.S. bombed and liquidated Moscow, in a few minutes the USSR could drop its own bomb and destroy Los Angeles. The imperialists discussed a lot about how a nuclear war could be carried out, destroying cities and gaining some advantage from the nuclear exchange so they could prevail over the USSR. Today it may seem strange, but thousands and thousands of pages of these discussions were written. Henry Kissinger argued that the problem of a nuclear war was not the nuclear war itself — there would be a few hundred million deaths, but that would not be the problem — but that the deaths would occur too quickly, not leaving people time to deal with them, and thus making it very difficult to run a system after a nuclear war and prevent a revolution from toppling the government, or even destroying the state. In other words, he saw this as a problem of how to carry out a nuclear war, not as a problem of the tragedy it would create.
Why am I bringing up the topic of war? Because capitalism can invent all kinds of countertendencies. It can create bubbles — like the housing bubble that popped in 2008 — or it can expand to China and make the revolution take steps backward and transform it into a counterrevolution. The capitalists can invent many things. But the ways that capitalism might find to resolve its crises cannot be separated from the organization of the workers’ movement, the class struggle, and revolution — from the action of revolutionaries. If these fundamental elements are erased, then it is obviously easier for capitalism to solve its crisis. But if it does not find one, and its internal contradictions prevent it from accumulating capital, it still has the option that it applied in the First and Second World Wars, which is to destroy the means of production, destroy bridges, factories, buildings, roads, etc., and let this destruction re-create fertile ground for the accumulation of capital. This is what happened in the 30 years after the Second World War, when there was full employment and high rates of growth in the central countries, which is why those were called capitalism’s “Trente Glorieuses.” These “Glorious 30 Years” ended in neoliberalism: because they did not end in revolution, once the rate of profit began to fall after the momentum from the reconstruction of Europe had run out, they began to attack the workers’ conquests on a massive scale.
Anyone who does not understand capitalism’s tendencies toward war, sooner or later, and that revolution and war are like mirrors reflecting each other, cannot fully understand the era we are living in. When we speak of war, this does not mean that it has to begin as a generalized war between great powers. It can begin as a war of minor powers that are linked to the great powers. There have already been wars between India and Pakistan, for example, where China is an ally of Pakistan and sells it much of its weaponry. In the current situation, that could escalate into a broader war in which American and European imperialism could not stand idly by. Therefore, it is naive to believe that the profound contradictions that are making it difficult to valorize capital can be resolved by the very laws of capitalism in the medium and long term, as well as to deny that these profound tendencies could lead to regional wars that can transform into world wars.
In general, many Marxists are skeptical about the existence of an era of crises, wars, and revolutions. The crises are difficult to deny — there was 2008, there is the current crisis. As for revolutions, it is only reluctantly accepted that they could happen. But wars, large-scale wars like the Second World War, seem to be considered impossible — which, as we said, shows at the very least a naive and superficial understanding of capitalism.
As Trotsky said, we do not preach war, but capitalism is creating profound contradictions that lead to war, and we cannot hide this. For example, the current crisis has not reached the levels of the crisis of 1929. But if it does, if more than 8,000 banks fail, then the tendencies toward war will emerged in the U.S. and Biden will become a great militarist. He already has the example of his mentor, Obama, whom Perry Anderson called the “Lord of the Drones” for carrying out thousands of selective assassinations during his presidency. This is the same president who started the “pivot” that we mentioned earlier to surround China, which is defending itself by creating artificial islands. From that point of view, the profound tendencies toward war and revolution — alongside the suffering, more acute than usual, that capitalism creates — are issues that lead to revolutions.
Today, capitalism faces ever-greater difficulties. It contains them through partial concessions, but it cannot contain the profound contradictions that run through it. In the case of interstate contradictions, as Claudia Cinatti’s article on the international situation points out, even though Biden has won, there can be no return to the situation before Trump’s inauguration. The conflict with Russia will continue; the conflict with China will continue; regional conflicts will continue. We are facing a scenario full of interstate tensions and growing difficulties for the accumulation of capital. Revolutionary and military responses are inscribed in the situation. We revolutionaries believe that although the situation is complex and although the revolution is full of difficulties, it is a much more realistic solution than the reformist proposals that ultimately don’t solve anything and lead ever-greater masses to poverty. Capitalism has found a limit to its accumulation since the 1970s, and its crises are more recurrent and profound.
This does not mean that the present crisis is the final one, nor the final war, nor the final class struggle, nor the final proletarian revolution; claiming that would be ridiculous. But in each of the processes that arise, we can advance in the construction of a proletarian party, and many of these processes can open up a revolutionary perspective.
If we want to examine a few of these questions in light of a more immediate example, we can take the images of Tartagal and General Mosconi in Salta in 2000–2001. At that time, public employees were being paid with several months’ delay. The Spanish oil company Repsol, which had made billions of dollars when the state-owned Argentinean oil company YPF was privatized, had left thousands of oil workers in the streets. So oil workers, public workers, and teachers were ambushing the gendarmerie, the militarized police. Big headlines in the press said, “Gendarmerie ambushed!” This was not the Russian Revolution — it was Argentina in 2000. In photos from that time, one can see workers assaulting a factory, and oil workers and unemployed workers with all the gear taken from the gendarmerie. So suffering that is more acute than usual changes people’s way of thinking and way of acting, which is normally passive and peaceful. People do not want war — they want peace. But if the alternative is to starve to death, many people do not accept that. A situation marked by confrontations of this type led to the revolutionary days of December 2001 in Argentina. Then came the brutal devaluation of wages and the so-called “asymmetric peso-ification.” Now, after all this, the prices of raw materials began to rise and the world economy rebounded, so the situation in Argentina was saved. But had there been three or four more years of crisis, the Argentinean situation could have transformed into an openly revolutionary one.
That is why the need to build a revolutionary party frames the discussions that we need to have at this conference. Crises like the one we are experiencing now — which leads to unemployment, to precarious workers seeing their income drop suddenly — change people’s way of thinking and acting, in a situation that is increasingly difficult to contain. This, as we said, does not mean it is the final crisis or the final confrontation. We do not know when — it won’t necessarily be this crisis. But whenever it is, perhaps within two or three years, we have to prepare ourselves now. If we advance toward a party of 10,000 or 20,000 workers who in turn will have influence among 10 or 15 percent of the working class — including public workers, teachers, and precarious workers — that means we will have made a giant leap to prepare for this crisis or a future one.
At the same time, we know that these processes are not limited to the national level. That is why we are internationalists and we are fighting, alongside the groups of the Trotskyist Fraction — Fourth International (FT-CI) for the reconstruction of the Fourth International. As the theory of permanent revolution indicates, the revolution begins in the national arena, unfolds in the international arena, and is completed by uniting the productive forces on the world arena in order to place all technology and science in the service of reducing the workday. In other words, to create a society of free producers.
We are fighting for a socialist society in which everyone gives to society according to their ability and takes from society what they need to survive. Not just basic needs, but all goods (of science, of culture, etc.) that one needs to live. As Trotsky said, we are not ascetics, we are not monks, we do not oppose “luxury” products; what we oppose is that 1 percent have luxury products while the rest have nothing to eat. We do not oppose private property in the sense that people have houses; we do not oppose people having cars; we do not say these ridiculous things that people attribute to us. We are for the nationalization of the big means of production and exchange, the expropriation of big landowners who have tens of thousands of hectares and, hand in hand with finance capital, extract all this money outside Argentina. We oppose the enormous factories — constructed with state support, like Techint or Aluar — like the big automobile factories owned by foreign capital that exploit workers and take all the profits to their international headquarters. We oppose that; our ideals are not ridiculous nor infantile nor impoverishing. We do not want everyone to be poor, to better distribute scarcity — although a revolution might have to go through moments of poverty at the beginning. Our goal is to develop the revolution in the international arena, and we know that this process cannot be completed if the U.S. proletariat does not manage to disarm the madness of weapons of all kinds — including nuclear weapons — in the arsenals of U.S. imperialism.
The United Spates spends almost $750 billion a year on the military, to make nuclear submarines, Tomahawk missiles, stealth aircraft, nuclear weapons, and so on. The state cannot provide universal health care, but it spends so much on defense — it’s almost twice what 45 million Argentinians produce in a year. The working masses in the United States have shown great vitality in the fight against racism in response to the murder of George Floyd. This is expressed not only in the shift to the Left when they voted for Sanders, who is a reformist, but in direct struggles, in the mobilization that took place, some peaceful and some violent. The U.S. proletariat can also be moved by a wave of revolutions that will not necessarily begin in the U.S. but could begin in weaker countries, as happened with the Russian Revolution, for example. Communism went from being marginal to being an important movement in Latin America thanks to the Russian Revolution. That is the norm: revolutions spread and win sympathy, and if they succeed in reducing work hours and making it possible for everyone to live more dignified lives, this would be an enormous example for the workers of the whole world to disarm the madness of their ruling classes.
This is what we are fighting for. How do we fight? Answering this question means looking at some of the biggest errors of postwar Trotskyism. What did the Trotskyists in the postwar period call for? In the USSR, they did not try to build a party. There were few of them, and the situation for building a party was very difficult. Now in the West, because of the Soviet Union’s success, because of the prestige that came from defeating the Nazis, and because it was growing economically, the socialist and communist parties became massive. So many Trotskyists became “advisers” to these parties — above all, the United Secretariat of the Fourth International — and set out to advise the bureaucracy on how to fight, which was nonsense. This orientation was put forward by Michel Pablo in 1951 in the document “Where Are We Going?” From there, they implemented a policy they called “entryism sui generis” in these parties — “sui generis” because it was not meant to win vanguard elements to build an independent revolutionary party. The aim was, rather, to remain inside those communist parties. They believed that a world war between the USSR and the U.S. was coming, and when that moment arrived, the Stalinist bureaucracy would have to turn to the left, and then, being inside those parties, they could win the leadership. That did not happen. In the competition with capitalism, capitalism won. There were no objective possibilities for the Trotskyists to lead any revolutionary process in the central countries. But what did depend subjectively on Trotskyism was the possibility of building Trotskyist currents at a national and international level, even if they remained limited to the vanguard. By devoting themselves to being “advisers” to those bureaucracies in the West, the sectors grouped around the “United Secretariat” abandoned that perspective. In turn, the sectors of Trotskyism that opposed that orientation, the so-called “anti-Pabloists,” were not a consistent alternative for building such currents either. This meant that Trotskyism as a whole did not arrive at the big, decisive historical events in good shape.
From this point of view, I think our conference should take place under the motto “No more living off borrowed glory from the Trotskyist movement.” Enough of living off historically accumulated political capital. In the video I made in homage to Trotsky in August of this year, I said how the Trotskyists died in the concentration camps in the USSR shouting “Long live Trotsky!” I talked about how they fought the fascists, Stalinists, and the “democratic” imperialists. That kind of historical reference is fine. But there are currents who all year long put all their energy into the routine of different electoral campaigns (for political and union elections) or even into the administration of state assistance, and then once a year they pay homage to Trotsky; that is living off the borrowed glory of Trotskyism. And comrades, we also have to think deeply about this: if there is a crisis, which is not necessarily the final crisis but which worsens existing conditions, and we do not try to build a revolutionary party that doubles or triples the militancy we have now, that goes much more into the unions, which organizes unionized workers, which organizes precarious workers, which participates in land occupations — so not only in the official workers’ movement and the students’ movement — if we do not do all of this, we are living on borrowed glory from the legacy of Trotskyism. If we do all this, if we fight in a sufficiently consistent way to impose the method of self-organization, to prevent some caudillo from coming and taking command, etc., then our path is open to no longer living off the borrowed glory of Trotsky’s legacy, and to start accumulating our own revolutionary political capital. We have to build a revolutionary party that is working-class and socialist; we have to transform this primitive accumulation that we have been doing very slowly for 30 long years.
When we speak of centrism, we mean that even our own movement is infected with the logic of the trade union bureaucracy. Some time ago we had a big discussion with a group that called itself the League for a Revolutionary Communist International: we said there is centrism, and they answered that there is no Trotskyist centrism, that it was crystallized and could not evolve to the left. We refused to make that characterization. The experiences we are having in France, for example, shows us that by joining the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA), in which we have tried to reach principled agreements with the left wings of that party to fight to found a truly revolutionary party in France, we have been able to advance in winning a sector of the best vanguard workers for Trotskyism, and we now have more than 200 militants, including comrades like Anasse Kazib, who is a great leader of the railway workers, who debates bourgeois politicians on television. There are also other comrades who are important leaders in their factories or unions. And of course the NPA does not administer state social plans — if that were the case, then it would be much more difficult to have a policy like the one we had in France. Let’s look at another example: the Latin American Conference we organized with the forces of the Workers Left Front (FIT), which served to politicize the debates between the parties that make up the FIT, showing the big differences that exist in international questions. There are comrades who criticized the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) in Brazil primarily because its program is not socialist. That is fine, but the main problem of the PSOL is its relationship with the state, which allows the right-wing tendencies to control the party. The Nuevo MAS, a Trotskyist party in Argentina that is not part of the FIT, says that when Guillerme Boulos made it to the second round of the mayoral election in São Paulo; this strengthened the Left in Brazil. But for that election, Boulos made an agreement with all the bourgeois forces opposed to Bolsonaro in an attempt to get more votes. We, who used “democratic candidacies” on the lists of the PSOL — which is an instrument used by currents in Brazil that cannot get officially registered as political parties due to undemocratic regulations, so this allows us to participate in elections with our own program, but on the lists of another organization — categorically refused to support Boulos’s candidacy in alliance with all the bourgeois forces, which is not an advance for the Left. Quite the contrary.
Returning to Argentina, we have the FIT, which is a great tool for political agitation and running in elections; that is very good but only if we remember that this is not our strategy — our strategy is to build a revolutionary party. The parliamentary struggle is subordinate to the extra-parliamentary struggle. In the last few years we have participated in the main struggles of the workers’ vanguard, but in the context of a low level of class struggle. We have to take advantage of the class-struggle phenomena that are beginning to emerge, to intervene boldly and prepare ourselves for the situation that is opening up. This is what we are going to discuss at this conference.
But I want to emphasize that what is written in the documents on the national situation is not “the Argentinean exception,” as if there were a revolutionary situation in development and we were on the path to taking power. We are not saying that; we are saying there is an incipient prerevolutionary situation. We are trying to be as sober as possible in our characterization — not like for centrism, in which everything is about competing for the most left-wing assessment of the situation. For example, in the 1980s, when the Argentinean dictatorship entered into crisis, the MAS declared that a revolutionary situation had opened and remained open, even after Raúl Alfonsin won the presidency and established his government. They did not change this characterization in more than a decade. In a case like this, words lose their meaning. We are trying to discuss as precisely as possible what the elements of the situation are. We are proposing the definition “incipiently prerevolutionary” to define our orientation.
So to conclude: the profound tendencies toward war and revolution — which sooner or later are going to push through — and the recurrent crises have no solution, in the final analysis, except via revolutions that put an end to war. Either that, or wars will do away with part of humanity. I am referring to solutions to the crisis of a capitalist system that does not find its own motors of accumulation; I am not saying that a date is already set, but rather that these are the profound tendencies of an era of crises, wars, and revolutions. The postwar boom ended in the 1970s; neoliberalism began, which was a reactionary solution created by capitalism. It was followed by multiple bubbles. Now there are bubbles that last for two or three years — no one is saying that they cannot get out of this crisis and there will therefore inevitably be a revolution in Argentina next year, for example. What we are saying is that not taking advantage of the opportunities posed by the situation and living off the borrowed glory of Trotskyism would make us nonrevolutionaries. It would make us a nonrevolutionary propaganda group. We can’t live off borrowed glory and say, “We Trotskyists were always right, because we always denounced the crimes of Stalin and those of Hitler, and our comrades died heroically in Nazi Germany, in Vichy France, and in the Soviet Union.” In this sense, we have to build not only the PTS but the entire FT-CI. We have to wrack our brains to make the goal of a socialist society with a communist perspective appear desirable, in which human labor will be liberated by all the restrictions imposed by capitalism, and will be reduced to a minimum, allowing for the development of culture, science, and everything that makes a human being human. But we must also articulate the ways to achieve it.
There are not, nor can there be, long-term reformist projects. There can only be short-term reformist ideas. As for the long-term projects that claim that technology, acting as an independent factor, can overcome the contradictions of capitalism, we do not believe they are scientifically correct and we would not bet on them. We bet that mobilizations, which began with a minimum program, can be raised until the workers conquer power in each country, and in perspective at an international and a world level. This is the context of our discussions at the PTS conference. In other words, we are not discussing in the context of a world surrounded by capitalist powers that are on the ascent and Argentina is the exception. We are surrounded by this situation — a large part of the world, including the leading powers, is experiencing this situation. Until there are counterrevolutionary blows that leave us isolated, it is a very promising situation for us. I wanted to raise this idea so it could serve as a context for the documents that we are going to discuss seriously and soberly during the conference, to see how we can advance.
First published in Spanish on December 20 in Ideas de Izquierda.
Translation: Nathaniel Flakin