Present Capitalist Crisis and Role of the «Left»
In order to assess the present situation of the Arab "Left", and its future, it is necessary to evaluate the character of the present stage of capitalism development, in a way that helps in putting the relevant questions in their realistic contexts, and foreseeing the future of leftist forces, especially the communist movement.
We, in the People's Will Party (PWP), believe that the horizons of this future are widely opened objectively, whether or not subjects were conscious of. In this regard, our position is based on understanding the nature of the crisis of capitalism in its present stage, which is witnessing involvement of peoples in political activity anew, as an expression of the unity of social crises produced by capitalism.
1. The crisis of capitalism and its unique context
The present crisis storming the capitalist system comes in a historically unique context, making us believe that it is the deepest crisis ever happened in the history of the system, with the possibility to be its last and exterminating one.
We can say that the crisis is unique on two levels:
The first level is structural; relating to the development of the capitalist structure as such, which had exhausted all margins of horizontal expansion, and complicated with high resistance to more vertical expansion, especially in capitalist core. In addition, the resulting political consequences is likely to be a kind of backfiring. The vertical expansion, reaching a certain point, is encroaching on the very margins necessary for production and reproduction of capital as such.
The second level relates to international economic and military configuration, and redistribution of material factors political power throughout the world. This complicates the classical "way-out" of the crisis through war.
Let us discuss each of the two levels in more details:
First level – Structural Crisis
On structural level, the crisis of 2007- 2008 expresses exhaustion of the temporary compensating role of the financial sector for one of the main tendencies in capitalistic development, namely the "Tendency of Rate of Profit to Fall" in real production sectors.
The leap in financial sector has played three functions: it has delayed overproduction crisis in the industrial sector; provided capital to the industrial sector; and secured investment alternatives with high profitability in financial and service sectors. Finally, credit has allowed plundering future surplus values before their realization. At the same time, it has allowed alleviating the direct effects of wage cuts in countries of the capitalist core. However, this has done nothing but accumulating these effects, and postponing their inevitable explosion at one fell swoop.
A study conducted by Esteban E. Maito and published in 2014 by Munich university, showed a tendency of rate of profit to fall globally from 40% in the year 1970, to about 20% on the eve of the crisis of 2007 – 2008. In the countries of capitalist core, the fall was from 42% to 11% by the year 2010. (See Table.1 below)
The finance role in "supporting" the process of capital reproduction, being exhausted, has entailed a negative effect – in a nearly automatic fashion – on the role played by another factor, which used to be effective in compensating for the falling tendency of the rate of profit. That factor was free trade, which suffered a considerable fall in its rates in the aftermath of the crisis. Furthermore, studies indicate that structural factors rather than cyclic ones dominate the post-crisis relative slowdown in free trade.
One of the known regularities of capitalistic development is a higher rate of growth in trade than of economic growth (the former being almost two-fold higher the latter). Recently, however, the rate of trade's growth has dropped below that of economic growth. Moreover, the trade has relatively dropped below its level of 1990s. (For a discussion of this point in liberal academic milieu, follow this link).
In this context, capital has no alternatives except more deepening and potentiating of its vertical expansion, i.e. reducing the share of GDP allocated to labour income. This is the general approach followed in countries of the capitalist core since 1980s, and it accelerated after the crisis, along with higher levels of plundering of surplus value. (Table 2. shows adjusted labour income share in developed G20 countries, 1991–2013. Published in «Global Wage Report 2014/15» by International Labour Organization «ILO»)
One response to the crisis in countries of the capitalist core takes the form of austerity programs, with their manifold negative effects on wages. Such programs include dismissing workers, and cancelling jobs, as waysx of reduction of wage mass, like in France, where 350 thousand jobs will be eliminated in the next five years, cuttings from various wage elements, directly, or indirectly (social services), or from delayed wages (retirement or end of service salaries), up to higher taxation etc…
On the other hand, there are "reforms" applied by the core, in the form of “adjusting labour market", in a way making it "more flexible". This aims at higher levels of surplus value plundering, for example, the battle taking place in France nowadays, about the amendment of the labour law represents a vivid and clear example on the class struggle. The authority is trying to introduce changes to the legal structure, so that it could enforce lengthening of the working day, with 50% reduction of payments for bonus working hours, and reduction of unemployment compensation, which form original parts of wages. There are also attempts to disintegrate the working class, by dictating negotiations (between the representatives of capital and labour), proceeding on micro levels; e.g. on the level of each corporation alone, instead of collective agreements on the level of the relevant sector, or the entire economy as a whole. Similar "reforms" were previously passed; for example, the proposal of increasing the age of retirement from 60 to 67 years.
It is superfluous to say that vertical expansion means increasing the level of contradiction between labour and capital. That means increasing the level of class struggle in its various expressions, including higher level of political activity of the masses, which will lead to a transition in the crisis from the economic plane to the political plane. This will bring on reflecting consequences onto the political spaces, making the traditional components of them destabilize and collapse. This is what we are witnessing today in our region, and in Europe: for example, the vaporization of social democratic parties has already accomplished in Greece, and is accelerating in Spain, and just beginning in France. At the same time, "new" parties are ascending (the Nationalest Right in the core, and forces of Left in Europe peripheries).
The facts of the crisis mentioned above, and the vertical expansion the capital is compelled to do as a response, makes us reach at the conclusion that one of the main characteristics of the present historical period is the acceleration of political activity of the masses, internationally. One indicator for example is the increase in number of major protests in the world, from 60 in 2006 to 115 in 2013, according to World Protest Report. That means opening the horizon in front of the forces that represent interests of masses, including the forces of the Left, and the radical Left in particular.
It is worth to note here, that the nature and deepness of the crisis, makes it a kind of a "massacre" to reformist political forces, and reformist Left in particular. The experience of Greece for example has showed that Syriza party could not, up to now, even to be reformist, or social-democratic. It has undergone complete submission to the agenda of finance capital represented by the “Troika”.
The second level – Modern international economic and military formations
The second new element is related to the far more increased level of complexity and danger inherent in any possibility of exiting the crisis through imperialist large-scale international wars ("the iron lung" of capitalism). The matter is about the historical changes that happened to the international political, economic, and military formations in the post-WWII world, which were concentrated in five countries: UK, USA, France, Germany, and Japan. Later, they also involved China, India, Russia, and others.
One country of these (China) have always had a double the population of the imperialist centers. Of the whole population of the earth, the population of "BRICS" collectively forms 42%, while the population of the traditional Center forms only 7%.
Political and military redistribution of forces, which is unprecedented in the capitalist epoch, has happened on two levels:
- Despite stumbling of the National Liberation Movements in many countries, they have succeeded in disintegrating the political hegemony of imperialist powers, and established entities with relative political "sovereignty", or "independence", though with a varying degrees, different from country to another, and from time to another. At the same time, it seemed that the neocolonial system, established at the end of 1950s, and the beginning of 1960s, had become useless. The relative success of some national state projects – which succeeded in keeping the state existed in the first place, and achieving some advance in the development of the productive forces, in the second place – has permitted the emergence of regional and international powers, which resisted the attempts to make them domesticated or contained through military or economic pressures.
Regarding the great powers, we find amongst the top five armies on the international scale: Russia, China, and India. Two of them (China and India) were under the sway of colonialism between the two world wars, and with Russia they were all on their way to be divided following the fate of the previously Ottoman Empire.
Qualitatively, great powers have weapons of mass destruction, and super-destruction. This makes victory to too expensive, and thus induces self-control, the thing which was not thinkable in the pre-nuclear era. In other words, the imperialist centers are no longer able to resort to military force with the same relative ease they could previously do (this in part accounts for the increasing importance of proxy war in imperialist strategies).
Overall, a shift in the gravity center of political power has happened, in an epoch-making way; indicating an emergent epoch of more complex distribution of global power, characterized by an ever exacerbating recession of the weight of USA, destabilization of the material and political foundations of NATO, and ascent of Russia, China, India and others. Zbigniew Brzezinski has commented on the situation as follows:
"The 500-year-long domination of the world by the Atlantic powers—Portugal, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Britain and, more recently, the United States—is coming to an end…"
"Domination of a single Great Power is not longer possible."
"A truly comprehensive American global domination is no longer possible."
This historical change is reflected by the division between the imperialist camp and the "emerging" capitalist powers. On the other hand, a division happened inside the imperialist camp itself, around how to handle with the new historical situation (For example, the more pronounced division inside Europe on how to address the “Russian question”).
The present polarization between the imperialist states and the "emerging" capitalist states is of temporary character. It will not take too much time before this polarization shifts towards the real fundamental dichotomy between the pole of peoples, on the first hand, and the capitalist system as a whole, on the second hand. That’s because the peoples of "BRICS", while confronting the capitalist crisis which began to storm their economies, from one hand, and waging a national struggle against the increasing imperialist pressures on them, from the other hand, will be obliged, for sure, to change their socioeconomic models, and thus to gradually turn against capitalism itself, as a socioeconomic system. We began witnessing indicators of this in many of the emerging states, including China and Russia (e.g. changes in national economic models (away from export-led growth), and in the model of integration with imperialist centers, anti-corruption and anti-oligarchy campaigns, etc.)
2- The regional situation under the crisis:
Horizontal and vertical expansion of capital since seventies of the last century, represent what is used to be termed "neo-liberalism". It invaded most countries of the world, even if with different intensity and speed, depending on the level of resistance in each individual country. Our region was not an exception. We can describe the emergent situation in the region on three levels:
The first level: degradation of governing regimens with their socioeconomic and political systems, which are too similar to each other, even if they differ in their political and ideological expressions, (it is worth to mention that the nature of regimens in our region doesn’t differ in essence from the nature of regimens in the states of capitalist periphery in general).
We can identify three stages in socioeconomic changes of the regimens in our region:
The first stage is characterized by a kind of "crippled" socioeconomic reforms, like agrarian reforms and others. The state then played an important role in production process, but at the same time, it preserved the capitalist relations of production, and the model of integration into the imperialist core as it is. In addition, parasitic bourgeois were kept intact, without any serious attempt to combat them. On the contrary, these parasites (comprador) were contained by bureaucrats of the state apparatus, who kept them free, but under supervision, and within certain outlined limits.
The second stage began with mid-seventies. It witnessed a turn into a reverse course toward the adoption of economic liberalism, or what is known as "neo-liberalism", which is summarized as recession in the economic and social role of the state, privatization, commercial and financial opening, and their consequences: erosion and destruction of national productive structure, which was already fragile; increasing of the relative political weight of parasitic bourgeoisie; and the resulting catastrophic social crises, as reflected by degradation of social indicators.
The third stage is characterized by entering of the regimens into a state of destabilization and imminent collapse, which will end in a change of their nature. This leads us to the second level of describing the situation in the region.
The second level: initiation of popular mobilization, and high political activity in our region, under the pressure of social crises, and as a part of, and an extension to, international anti-capitalist movement, in a global capitalist system unable to solve any of the accumulated and exacerbated problems. The imperialist core has tried to manage the popular movement using different and combined methods: from oppression, through arming (like in Syria), up to making formal changes, like dismissal of presidents, but with preservation of the structure of socioeconomic relations, and the governing regimen intact. The most dangerous are the attempts to eviscerate these movements from their social content, and from their revolutionary potential, by inducing divisions inside their rows, based on "false" (or secondary) dualities existed in society, and based on defining one's identity according to belonging to, or exclusion from, a certain religion, religious sect, nationality, or tribe… etc., or based on dichotomies such as (civilian/military), or (religious/secular),. etc.
Anyway, the popular movement in the region is still at the beginning, and its underlying causal factors are still existed. In Syria, whose popular movement underwent predomination by high levels of outer intervention, and arming, we are completely sure that when violence and military conflict subside, the popular movement will restore its momentum, with its various expressions. In our region, there is a reverse relation between the level of military conflict, on one hand, and the level of popular movement's activity, on the other hand.
The third level: the crisis of hegemony, that USA suffers in the region (because all of the now collapsing socioeconomic regimens were not but the legal sons of the American- and European-centered international system.). Moreover, USA crisis has been transformed from a hegemony crisis, to become a deeper one; a crisis of domination and control, because of many factors, the first of them is the failure of traditional economic and political US tools of playing their determined roles, especially against the recent increasing level of political activity of the peoples in the region. In addition, there is a difficulty in a direct military intervention by US, especially with the increasing regional influence of ascending international powers (Russia and China), and regional powers (Iran), in a direction opposite to the traditional interests of USA and Europe.
This pushes toward a new kind of international relations, based on multiplicity, and respect of national sovereignty, and redistribution of roles, functions, and shares, between the international and regional powers, in a way that forms a historical opportunity to rebuild projects of national states on more firm and stable foundations.
We can identify two acts of the American response to the emergent complex situation in the region, both sharing the same characteristics of confusion and seeking to raise tension and disunion amongst and within peoples of the region.
In the first act, the Americans have adopted what can be called "all or nothing" strategy; as if America were saying: "either my full hegemony on the region, or no hegemony to anyone at all.", and even if the price was to destroy whole societies, and annihilate all of their productive forces, and cultural heritage, and even if this required burning the whole region with endless series of internal wars, ignited by provocation of hostile sentiments mutually interdependent on widening and deepening all kinds of secondary social cracks (e.g. sectarian, racial, national… etc.) to be manipulated and used in this modern and more tragic type of "Bellum omnium contra omnes". This has even reached to the point of reviving and sponsoring neo-fascism, such as ISIS ("Daesh"), and the like, which forms the functionaries of the most reactionary and criminal sectors of international finance capital. However, in spite of all the destruction it entails, this strategy has deadlocked. That is because of the counteracting effects of the new international force balance, and the elucidation of unexpected and dangerous consequences if wars extended beyond the limits drawn by USA, in a time it has no longer have sufficient forces to operate in the region.
The second act of American response holds the title of "rational management" of the crisis globally, and rearrangement of priorities. American imperialism is making maneuvers of repositioning and redistributing its military and economic forces, aiming at organizing the process of its retreat. This is represented by changing the tactics used, especially by inlaying and engulfing its hard power (like sanctions, arming, or wars) with soft power, and measures of containment. Up to now, this has been reflected by the advancement of a group of political paths, the most prominent of them are: endorsing a nuclear agreement with Iran, accepting a political process for settlement of the crises of Syria and Yemen, and preparations for launching a new "peace process" in Palestine. Besides, there is also the US-Cuban dialogue. On the other hand, these political paths are confronted and hindered by military escalations and tensions in East Asia.
Nobody should have any illusions that the complex crisis of imperialism today, could make it tend to peace. Imperialism today is obliged to redefine its targets, and re-caliper its "weapons", and the density of fire shot, and the margins of error, and while doing this, it is obliged to take into account the complex situation in reality.
Imperialism today is putting our region, and all of humanity, on crossroad: socialism or barbarism. No change introduced on the main targets of imperialism; the target of making its enemies "burning from within", through fabricating, inflating and fueling internal conflicts, is a still-present target. The only change is that the process is being transferred to the political level, in order to contain the dangers of extension of the existing wars. However, there are no guarantees that the results – derived from imperialist management of the contradiction between "burning from within" on the one hand, and political paths necessarily advanced by international balance of forces, on the other hand – to be in accordance with American interests. This becomes especially true if the local national forces take responsibility as they should, and this leads us to the role and function of the Left, particularly the communist movement.
3 - The "Left" and its role
The combined crisis of capitalism and its imperialist core objectively provides a necessary – though not sufficient – condition for progression of the leftist and communist forces. Being conscious of this new historical turn, the progressive forces should abandon "the mentality of the defeated", which predominates since 1990s, after the disintegration of USSR and its later consequences, and should make and adopt programs that correspond to the present historical stage of "open horizon".
Putting such programs into application needs efforts for assembling the social and political forces, that share a common interest in radical and comprehensive change. The kind of "assemblage" which we meant here is not a "mechanical" assemblage, but it is the creation of the necessary and suitable concrete forms (party organizations, grass root organizations, unions, alliances, united fronts, lobbies .etc.), which can collectively perform united struggles, based on the necessary common denominators (socioeconomic, democratic, and national) among the contributors.
Our societies are full of social forces of an essentially inherent anti-capitalist nature (whether or not these forces were conscious of that). Moreover, the social forces organically related as an appendage to the capitalist system, suffers a historical impasse, actually the worst one in its history; this capitalist "appendage" of today is barely attached to the central capitalist "body", lives in an actual state, or imminent danger, of being destabilized, cast-off, or even amputated. In the context of the inability of imperialist center to support this appendage, they become rather suspended in the air, filled with apprehension and panic about the future, and this makes it especially prone to have a destructive potential of the kind that any despaired or bankrupted one might have.
Assemblage of forces includes – from a dialectical point of view – the mission of sorting and selecting the forces according to criteria that guarantee undoing the effect of "burning from within" strategy, which is adopted from both the imperialist centers, and some local forces (whether existed in governing regimens, or oppositions, alike). Such process of sorting and selection should redraw the lines on the social and political "map", in a progressive and constructive way. Thus correcting the reactionary and destructive drawing, which is full of malicious cracks, clefts, and intentionally implanted social "explosive mines", in the form of "false" dualities that are unfortunately taken as if they were "true" dualities even by some forces of the "Left".
Acting according to the reactionary "map" has sanctioned illusory and secondary contradictions, and that leads to dispersion of the social base of the same common interest of radical and comprehensive change. These contradictions function as isolators among the political forces diverging them one from each other. They also isolate between the political forces, on the one side, and the society, on the other side. These dispersing and isolating outlines come in various forms; from categories like (religious/secular), or (civil/military), through secondary separating social lines (religious, sectarian, national.. etc.), up to the "heritage" of quarrels – mostly dogmatic and unpractical–inside the political space, among the three main political currents in our region, namely; the leftist, the Nationalist, and the Islamist.
The process of sorting, selecting, and assemblage, aiming at alteration of the relation of forces in the interest of a radical, comprehensive, and deep change, should be based on corresponding programs and practices of the correlated triad (socioeconomic, democratic, and national), and not on ideological outlines of any kind.
Of great importance in this regard, reemphasizing on the socioeconomic issues, and the problem of representation of the interests of workers, peasants, and marginalized classes, so the reflections of these problems in political programs should be evaluated, especially in relation to the combined demand of "the highest economic growth, with the deepest social justice" as an integrated unity, and mutual interdependence. This socioeconomic dimension should be advanced to the foreground again, after a long period of being disregarded and overwhelmed behind all kinds of formal "democratic" demands.
This leads us to the second dimension of the aforementioned "triad"; the position from the democratic issue. This position should be based on practical foundations, in a way that facilitate and guarantee social progress, and development of productive forces, and effective activity, participation, and supervision, practiced by the society itself.
The function of political system is to adjust the relation between the state apparatus and society, between the state apparatus and political movement, and between the political movement and society. The foundations of popular democracy are determined according to the concrete situation in each individual case, and not according to the "canned" dogmatic liberal prescriptions of democracy, imported from the imperialist core, because these are based, in the first place, on a historical lie about the role and weight of democracy in the course of western development. This lie is told over and over, by some "believers" from the Left, who believe in "establishing democratic institutions" as sacred idols, and perform their rituals and ceremonies of "worship", as if this "democracy" were a kind of secular Messiah.
The third dimension is related to the actual position toward the United States of America, the European Union, and the Zionist entity (which is called "Israel"). The criterion here is related to questioning about the presence and degree of involvement and support of all forms and levels of resistance to the hegemony of the imperialist core, and practicing of this resistance using all means and measures.
Our participation as political forces, is determined by our consciousness of the nature of the present historical period, and our ability to translate this into programs and practices able to make our societies, and the whole of humanity, avoid the woes of barbarism, which capitalism leads us to, and to widen more and more the already opened horizon in front of socialism, which is now knocking on the door strongly.
Translated into English to Kassioun by: Dr. Osama Dlykan
Salam Al-Sharif / Member of the Central Council of People's Will Party.
This presentation was introduced on behalf of People's Will Party, in the first Leftist Ideology Seminar, entitled: «The Role of the Communist, Left, and Democratic Parties and Forces in confronting schemes of National State Disintegration, along with Extremism, Terrorism, and Sectarianism», Copenhagen 28–29/05/2016, at the office of the Communist Party of Denmark (DKP).