The following is a transcript of a lead off by marxist.com editor, Alan Woods, at the world perspectives discussion at the 2021 congress of the International Marxist Tendency. In this speech, Alan lays out the most fundamental processes unfolding in a global situation marked by unprecedented crisis and dislocation at every level. Capitalism has never been more unstable, nor the potential for class struggle greater. The missing element is a bold, revolutionary leadership to show the workers, youth and poor of the world a way out of this morass.
This congress is taking place in a situation of fundamental change, monumental change in world history. It is a crisis that is frankly unlike any other crisis that we’ve seen and it will have the most momentous consequences. One of the factors that makes it different is that it’s mixed up with the pandemic. Now we must be absolutely clear about this: this crisis was not caused by the pandemic. It was in preparation before the pandemic started. It is now inseparably linked with the pandemic, which served to expose all the main fault lines within society.
The pandemic is still raging out of control, subjecting millions of men, women and children to needless suffering and needless death. The last figure I’ve seen is that officially there are 180 million cases of covid and 4 million deaths worldwide. These casualties can only be compared to one thing, and that’s a catastrophic world war. However, even these figures underestimate the real extent of the catastrophe. A recent study made by the Economist journal suggests that the number of excess deaths could be between 17 to 30 million over the next few years.
Watch Alan’s speech in full
Sea of human misery
We are faced with an endless sea of human misery that afflicts particularly the poorest countries. But not only the poorest countries. This pandemic exposes deep inequalities between rich and poor, not just on a world scale, but within society including in the richest countries on Earth. On a world scale it’s easy to quantify. Half of the world’s population will not have access to a vaccine this year. The richest countries, which are the G7, only promised 10 percent of the necessary vaccines to tackle the pandemic worldwide. To make matters worse, of course, you now have more dangerous, contagious variants emerging, particularly in unvaccinated populations.
The poorest countries in the world have absolutely no protection against the Delta variant. I just saw yesterday on television, in Africa only 1.5 percent of the population has been vaccinated. Hospitals are turning away poor patients in Zambia, only serving profitable ones. Relatives are forced to bring their own oxygen because it’s unavailable in hospitals. This is the general picture. For example, in Indonesia or Myanmar, where harrowing stories are coming up. You’ve seen the pictures on television. It’s having a devastating effect in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East… They are talking about ‘social distancing’ and ‘washing your hands.’ How can you wash your hands when millions lack access to clean drinking water? How can you maintain social distancing in the markets of Lagos and Karachi?
“The poorest countries in the world have absolutely no protection against the Delta variant” / Image: Ninian Reid, Flickr
1.5 million people were pushed into poverty in the last year. Millions are faced with a choice between dying of COVID or a slow agonising death from hunger. Like Lenin said, “capitalism is horror without end”. All of this is having consequences. We see that already in South Africa, with riots, we see a huge outburst of anger. They say it was provoked by the arrest of Zuma, but I don’t think that’s the case. It is more a symptom of the fact that millions are living in intolerable conditions and they can’t stand it anymore.
It’s not easy to determine the causes of a pandemic. The Black Death wiped half the population of Europe in the 14th century. And to this day they don’t know what the cause of that pandemic was—they have no idea! They don’t even know what it was. The idea of the bubonic plague has been discredited. So was the idea that it was spread from fleas and rats in ships. What is perfectly clear, and that’s the important point, is the effects that it had on society.
The Black Death had a fundamental effect in finishing off the feudal system. It pushed it over the brink. It was already in a crisis, it pushed it over the edge. And it had revolutionary consequences. In England, in the Peasant Revolt of 1381.
We must have a dialectical attitude. Dialectics is on the agenda and now you’ll see why it’s on the agenda. It’s a question of accident and necessity. You can see that this pandemic, like all pandemics, really falls under the category of an accident. An accident in the philosophical sense of the word. That is to say, something that might or might not have taken place at a particular time.
And we don’t have to explain accidents, it’s quite a complicated process: there are always many explanations for an accident. But what is clear, and what Hegel explained, is that necessity expresses itself through accident. That’s always the case. As a matter of fact, the crisis would have occurred with or without the pandemic.
The pandemic has exacerbated the crisis. But any number of accidents could have provoked the current crisis. The pandemic, a stock exchange crisis, a war, even an assassination. Lenin was under the opinion that the trial of Dreyfus in France could have led to a civil war, could have led to a revolution in France. That was an accident. Frankly, we should not spend so much time on the cause of an accident but rather on the effects that it has on the existing order, disturbing the equilibrium and forcing millions of people to reconsider ideas that they’ve always held. That is the important point that must be expressed here. And that’s a fact that is clearly taking place.
Now it’s an interesting point that on 29 April, the Economist magazine published a very interesting article that explained how past pandemics have the effect of increasing the antagonism between rich and poor, leading to revolutionary developments. It’s worthwhile quoting this article because it shows how the strategists of capital, with a slight delay and from their own class point of view, always tend to come to similar conclusions as the Marxists. I quote from the Economist:
“The cholera epidemic of the early 1830s hit France hard, wiping out nearly 3 percent of Parisians in one month, whose hospitals were overwhelmed with ailments that doctors could not explain—and this is the interesting point. The end of the plague prompted an economic revival, with France following Britain into an industrial revolution. But as anyone knows who’s read Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, the pandemic also contributed to another type of revolution. The city’s poor, hit hardest by the disease, turned their anger against the rich who had fled to their country homes to avoid the contagion, France saw political instability for years afterward.”
And it draws the interesting conclusion: “As Les Miserables asserts, political upheaval often follows with unpredictable economic consequences.”
It also finds that COVID-19 has made people across Europe adverse to inequality. And this is their final conclusion: “Such pressures have in some instances exploded into political disorder. Pandemics expose and accentuate pre-existing inequalities, leading those on the wrong side of the bargain to look for redress.”
You see, these people, they’re not stupid, they can see what we can see, and they are profoundly worried, because they understand that the boom will not solve anything and the present conditions are preparing the ground for revolutionary developments everywhere. That is where we must concentrate our attention and not on rather empty speculations.
Inequality and anxiety of the ruling class
You see that many contributions were along the same lines. Economic growth cannot mask the crying social and class contradictions that have been exposed by the pandemic, even in the advanced capitalist countries. It’s well established that the poorest sections, the blue-collar workers were hit hardest by the pandemic. That’s why Italy was the hardest hit. Everybody knows that the number of deaths was far higher in poorer areas than the richer ones. That’s why in all countries there is a burning sense of injustice, anger, bitterness, and rage, which is building up beneath the surface, creating the conditions for a social explosion.
It’s impossible for me to overstate the importance of this. If the bourgeois, the Economist can see it clearly then we ought to be able to see this even clearer. There’s a story, a pacifist one time said to Lenin, during the First World War: “war is terrible.” And Lenin answered, “yes, terribly profitable!”
Even during the pandemic, you see the figures, I haven’t got the time to quote them. The rich have gotten even more rich. We published the figures about Jeff Bezos, I think they’re in the document. What is outstanding is that they flaunt these riches, as if they’re proud of them. You have the disgusting spectacle of Mr. Bezos in his spacesuit engaged in his space-tourism with his ultrarich cronies.
“The rich have gotten even more rich… What is outstanding is that they flaunt these riches, as if they’re proud of them” / Image: Space X
On the other hand, hundreds of thousands of his workers are toiling in slave-like conditions for slave-like wages. These things do not pass unnoticed. This attitude by the way is even more glaring than the palace of Versailles of Louis the 14th and the slums of Paris. It is even more visible to everybody because of social media. This shows just how far this parasitic clique is removed from reality. That’s an important point because it’s happening to all of them. Politicians, economists, I won’t even mention philosophers, they’re on another planet.
They’re as far removed as Marie Antionette, according to the famous story when she was told that the people had no bread. She cracked a joke, you know: “Let them eat cake!” No doubt she had occasion to meditate on these words a few years later when she was driven to the guillotine. These things have an effect you know, they’re noticed by the strategists of capital. Randall Lane, editor of Forbes magazine – this is of course a magazine for the ultra rich – wrote the following interesting lines on 7 April, about the colossal inequality between rich and poor. He writes the following:
“These figures will engender endless amounts of consternation, most of it justified. There’s no getting around a collective $5 trillion wealth surge during a pandemic, when most of the world felt scared, sick and besieged. Capitalism, the greatest system ever for generating prosperity, rests upon a social compact of expansion, unequal by design, ultimately lifting all boats. The COVID-19 economy has strained that concept; yawning economic disparity poses arguably the greatest threat to modern social order.”
Capitalism cannot solve the problems of the pandemic because it is the problem. Governments like to use military analogies to describe the current situation, we’re at war with the COVID and so on. But if we were really at war with the virus, governments would mobilise all resources to solve this one task. They would ramp up production to produce as many vaccines as possible. So why don’t they do it? They don’t do it because capacity needs to be expanded, spending money on new factories. And in reality, the big private vaccine manufacturers have no interest in expanding, because if they ramped up production capacity so that the whole world could be supplied vaccines within six months, which is quite possible, what would they do with the factories? They would stand empty and their profits would be lower. Therefore they have no interest, that’s the problem.
In times of war, people are prepared to make sacrifices, to accept lower living standards, and even certain restrictions on democratic rights for a certain amount of time. But this crisis has exposed all the corruption, chaos, the inefficiency of the capitalist system and the obscene greed of the capitalists. And this is the basis of the unprecedented upswing of the class struggle everywhere.
Now in his opening remarks, Rob said this is the greatest economic crisis in the past 300 years. The governor of the Bank of England explained this. Lenin said capitalism can recover from even the deepest crisis, unless it is overthrown by the working class. And now there is a beginning of an economic rebound. We did predict this in the document. We thought it would take a little bit longer, because the vaccines have been discovered far quicker than anticipated. But many forecasters are saying America’s economy will grow by 6 percent. That’s quite a lot. Other countries are beginning to get unusually fast growth.
But this growth is riddled with new and insoluble contradictions. We must understand another thing, I hear there cannot be any more reforms under capitalism. That is also false! It’s true in a general sense that there cannot be any more reforms. But when the ruling class is faced with losing everything, they will resort to the most desperate measures to save the system. It seems to me that, at the moment the bourgeois, they’re like a drunken man. They’re drunk with illusions of Keynesianism that they previously rejected. The ruling class is clutching at Keynesianism like a drowning man clutches at a straw. It’s quite incredible, they’re talking about spending billions of dollars or pounds or euros like they’re spending small change on a box of matches. They’ve forgotten an elementary truth: governments cannot pluck money out of thin air, and use this to get the economy out of a crisis, that’s an illusion.
And yet, faced with horrendous collapse, they’ve been paying the wage bill of millions of workers out of the public budget. Central banks have been flooding the market with fake money, but this itself is a condemnation of the capitalist system. Ask yourself this, how can this be reconciled with the oft-repeated mantra of the Economist, who for the last three decades at least have been telling us that the state and the government have no role to play in the free market economy?
And yet, at the present time, on a world scale, the so-called free market economy can only exist on the basis of a handout from the state. That same state was supposed to play no role at all. This is a confession of bankruptcy in the most literal sense, because the central problem is clear and can be summed up in one word: debt. Global debt, that is to say, all debt: household debt, cooperative debt, state debt, the last figures I’ve got is more than 350 percent of the total world GDP. This is one of the greatest dangers facing the world capitalist system, there are others. It is a ticking time bomb of debt. Built into the foundations of the economy. And in the long run it is effectively far more devastating than any terrorist bomb.
Under Trump for example, in just four years, the US public debt rose by $7tn, no less. Reaching a total of $21.6tn. That’s more than 100 percent of US GDP. So in terms of public debt, the United States of America is now on the same level as Greece and Italy. But we don’t have to talk about that, do we? We don’t talk about when it’s going to be paid.
“Wall Street are pushing the Biden administration to increase state intervention in the economy… All of this amounts to a mountain of debt” / Image: Gage Skidmore
Now, this policy is also a threat for a tremendous amount of inflation. The Italian comrades have added some interesting material on inflation which we have added. We’ll have to say more on this subject later. But I’ve noticed that Martin Wolf, quite a far-seeing economist from the FT, was quoting the Communist Manifesto in his own way, he says: “a spectre is haunting investors”. The return of inflation. What we are seeing is a recipe for an absolute explosion of hyperinflation at a certain stage.
The rising prices in March and April seem to confirm this perspective already. But normally, you see, the role of a central bank like the Federal Reserve is to increase interest rates to dampen down inflation – that is the purpose of it – and also to bolster the currency (the dollar in this case). But the Federal Reserve is not doing that, it is not increasing interest rates. That is because they are terrified that any increase in interest rates would cause an immediate slump.
That is a correct fear, by the way.
And they are under pressure from Biden not to do this. Of course, Biden insists that the Federal Reserve is independent. That of course is a ridiculous fiction. There is no way that the Federal Reserve is independent. This is fake money – they talk about fake news, this is fake money! — that is coming from the Federal Reserve – it is only that that is propping up government finances.
Wall Street are pushing the Biden administration to increase state intervention in the economy. Biden lost no time in unveiling his plan for a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan for the economy. All of this amounts to a mountain of debt. The problem with mountains, as the Swiss and Austrian comrades know, is that mountains eventually cause avalanches.
But they are ignoring the danger. Serious economists like Martin Wolf are warning them. They are like a drunken man. You know what happens: you have a party and you have a few drinks and then a few more drinks – in the end you are completely drunk. There is always some guy, always some horrible guy, who comes up and taps you on the shoulder. A party pooper is what they’re known as in English: “You’d better stop drinking, you’ll have a terrible headache in the morning.” And what do you say? “Oh, leave me alone!” And the next day you do wake up. And what do you say then? “Oh, never again, never again, I’ve learned my lesson”. Yes, until the next party!
The bourgeoisie: they are ignoring all the warning signs. There is an old Indian or Chinese proverb, you know: “A man who rides on the back of a tiger will find it difficult when the time comes to dismount.” The ruling class is riding on the back of the tiger of inflation. It’s full steam ahead! Until they hit a brick wall.
That’s the perspective. That’s one danger – there are other dangers. You know, Trump’s protectionist policy: “America First”, which threatened the entire structure of globalisation, which was painfully put together over a period of decades. He picked a fight with China. But yes – Biden is now pursuing the same policy. One of his first acts was to order a 100 day review of the security of all of America’s supply chains. They are particularly concerned about microchips. Which is a key strategic question for American capitalism.
I don’t know if you know this, but all the microchips in the world are produced in one of two places: Taiwan and South Korea, both places which China is trying to increase its influence in.
This will have consequences across the entire region.
Effect on consciousness
I said earlier on: we must concentrate on the effects of the crisis on consciousness. As we said in the document: even an economic upswing, far from dampening the class struggle, will increase the class struggle. Particularly for the Trade Union front. Above all what you must understand is this enormous bitterness and anger of the population, that won’t go away because the economy is coming back. Already there are clear changes in consciousness.
I have figures from an opinion poll, it clearly indicates a clear radicalisation of the population, particularly of young people. 54 percent of Americans between 18-24 of age view capitalism negatively. 52 percent view socialism positively.
Even more interesting is a right-wing organisation’s poll: the Victims of Communism Foundation. They found 18 percent of young people think that communism is a fairer system than capitalism and deserves consideration in America. The poll also found that 30 percent of young people have a favourable view of Marxism. And 26 percent support the gradual elimination of the capitalist system in favor of a more socialist system.
78 percent of people believe that political parties and politicians are distant and not interested in the views of young people.
“54 percent of Americans between 18-24 of age view capitalism negatively. 52 percent view socialism positively” / Image: Socialist Revolution
The same figures say we are living in a time of great injustice and exploitation. 66 percent of Republicans, aged 18-34, have a positive view of capitalism. That’s down from 81 percent in 2019. Now I’ve got too many figures, but I think you’ve got the picture. Here in embryo we have the outline of revolutionary developments in the future.
Now I don’t have a lot of time to speak about China. That is a separate discussion. But as you remember from the document, China is recovering incredibly from the pandemic. Chinese exports have been rising every month since June 2020. This very success is also its undoing.
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. China has got to export in order to survive. But it faces a reaction from the US, the protectionist measures that have been taken. They have caused serious problems for Chinese exports. This in turn can cause serious problems for China internally. China needs to maintain 8 percent growth to keep up with the labor force. There have already been factory closures.
So far they’ve managed to keep a lid on things. But what happened in Hong Kong is an indication of what can happen in any Chinese city. Therefore we must follow events in China very closely. Great events are being prepared in China. Which will change the destiny of China and the whole world.
Now you see I’ve already dealt with the question of consciousness. I have figures from Britain and Latin America. COVID of course has had an extreme effect on Latin America. Extreme poverty levels have returned to the 1990s. There were already revolutionary developments before the COVID in 2019. There are developments in Chile, Colombia with the general strike, in Peru with the victory of Pedro Castillo, in Brazil with Fora Bolsonaro protests that are gaining momentum. In all of these movements, it is particularly the youth and women leading them, indicating that Latin America is on the point of retying the knot of revolutionary history.
I don’t have time to deal at any length with the question of Cuba, which really requires a separate discussion, which we have at the next IEC. The situation in Cuba is very serious. It has spread to other towns and cities in Cuba, indicating a change in the situation. Partly because of the effect of the blockade. American imperialism tried to throttle Cuba. This creates a mood of discontent. Obviously directed against the bureaucracy, which is powerless to help because they are part of the problem. Naturally, the international meda is presenting the protestors as defenders of freedom and democracy. The demonstrations were far bigger than in the past, in the last few decades, but they exaggerate the size and lie through their teeth.
They were widely supported by workers and ordinary people, not just police. There were many honest Cubans who supported the revolution against the counter revolution. They actually put pictures of protesters supporting the revolution as though they were counter-revolutionaries. And it is quite scandalous that so-called revolutionaries, so-called Marxists, so-called Trotskyists, like the SWP have capitulated to the bourgeois media. It is quite true there were peasants and workers at these demonstrations. But the presence of poor peasants and workers in such demonstrations is not sufficient to characterise the progressive or revolutionary character of the movement.
The main slogans and political content of these demonstrations are clearly counter revolutionary, and anti socialist. Now in a situation like that, that is quite polarized, you have to take sides. We cannot remain indifferent. There cannot be any ambiguity whatsoever. We are against these demonstrations, we must actively defend the revolution.
There might be confused elements involved but that is besides the point. As a tendency we have actively participated in Cuba for some time now. We’ve participated in the debates that have taken place for some time now. We have a degree of credibility… Among the left wing of the Cuban Communist Party who support that we’ve taken a firm position in favor of the revolution. That is not to say that we support the policies of the bureaucracy. They are in some ways responsible for what is happening in Cuba. It is a complicated question we have to return to, and we will at the next session.
I don’t have to deal with very important developments in Myanmar. The articles we’ve produced have gone down very well. But the task of revolutionaries in Myanmar is very difficult. There is a ferocious repression taking place. At least at this point in time, the revolution has reached an impasse. Unfortunately some of the best youth have been drawn into guerrilla struggles, you can understand that. I understand that. But we must learn from history. He who does not learn from the past will be doomed to repeat it. We’ve been here before, comrades. They’ve got a particularly brutal and vicious regime. They will resort to any measures to crush these guerilla groups, leading to the tragic loss of many of the most courageous elements. The revolution in Myanmar is not lost. The masses have shown tremendous courage and revolutionary spirit. But in the last analysis we must tell the truth. They were let down by the lack of leadership, by a bad leadership, the bourgeois democrats and leaders, who have no real perspective of a revolutionary struggle. Napoleon said losing armies learn well.
The task is now to assemble the loyal forces of the revolution that still survive and under difficult conditions of illegality to help them regroup and help them prepare for new conditions that will come as night follows day.
Collapse of the centre
But we don’t talk of any particular country. Anywhere you look you see the same picture. This is not a conjectural crisis, this is a crisis of the regime, a crisis of the system itself. I haven’t seen it in a long time, not for a long time, not for decades. A new element is the way in which the ruling class is losing control of the situation itself. Losing control of the traditional instruments for running society. The politicians have lost control of the situation, both in the USA and in Europe.
“[T]he collapse of the political centre, this gigantic zero… reflects a sharp political and social polarisation, to the left and to the right” / Image: Socialist Appeal
Above all, what is really worrying the ruling class is the collapse of the political centre, this gigantic zero. What does that reflect? It reflects a sharp political and social polarisation, to the left and to the right – don’t forget that. That’s what causes alarm within the ruling class, which feels power slipping out of their hands. Everywhere you look, you see powerful establishment parties, which once had sizable influence: they are now identified among the masses not with progress but with austerity. Take Britain as an example. Dialectics tells us that sooner or later things turn into their opposites. Just think for a moment. It wasn’t so long ago, five, four years ago, Britain was regarded as a model of political stability in Europe. What’s the situation now? It’s one of perfect instability at all levels. For decades, the British ruling class ruled through two parties, the Labour Party and the Conservative Party. The Conservative Party was the main party, but sometimes they would get into difficulties.
A cricket analogy: once you have done with your first eleven, they would put out their second eleven. If the Conservative government got into difficulties, they’d pull in the Labour government. Nothing much changes. But that’s not the case now. The British ruling class has lost control of the Conservative Party. Can you honestly say the Johnson government is controlled by the British ruling class, the bankers and capitalists? No, I don’t think so. It’s controlled by middle-class lunatics, with a circus clown as Prime Minister.
And they lost control of the Labour Party under Corbyn, that was a very alarming development. We said this ourselves, there was no way the ruling class was going to allow that to continue. They mobilised all their forces to destroy Corbyn, and they did destroy Corbyn. And now the Labour Party has swung to the right. And now there is an ongoing struggle. Comrades will speak of that. Socialist Appeal, they did the honor of proscribing us. We’re getting a lot of support over that, we’re not worried. But they don’t control the Conservative Party. In the US, could you say that Trump was a representative of the ruling class? No, Donald Trump was a representative of Donald Trump. He escaped their control.
There’s a movement under Sanders that also represented a serious threat. The biggest worry for the bourgeoisie is the collapse of the centre, they’re trying desperately to rebuild it. When we were practising the translation of this, I said a children’s nursery rhyme:
“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.”
Humpty Dumpty is the centre. The fundamental forces are driving the classes apart, away from the centre. The growing inequality is the reason for this. Big movements of the youth particularly, they’re the most affected by this crisis, these opinion polls are not an accident, they’re a consequence of this polarisation. This generation has no trust in capitalism.
In America, they used to talk about the American dream. People used to believe this. If I work hard and sacrifice, I can run a business, I can be a multimillionaire, I can do that. What are the facts? This is the first generation in history in America that cannot expect a better living standard than their parents. The youth of America have been robbed of their future and they know it. That’s the reason for this radicalisation seen in the opinion polls. There’s another for Britain and for Italy that shows the same thing. People know this, and that’s why revolutionary slogans find such an echo with the youth.
I could say something about the role of women. Look at the huge demonstrations of women in Argentina, in Ireland, in Poland, in Spain. The fight for equal rights, against injustice, as well as against the dictatorship of the Roman Catholic Church, in places like Ireland. It made my heart warm to see that in Ireland, a place that the church dominated especially over the role of women, it’s finished.
All these are symptoms of revolutionary tendencies. You also see another phenomenon that we must explain and understand. The mood of society is angry but it is also extremely mistrustful and volatile. The masses are desperately seeking a way out of this terrible crisis, and they will move in one direction or in another direction. If they are disappointed in one direction, then they will look in another direction. If they are disappointed in the left, then they will look to the right. But that is also true in the other direction: rapid swings to the left after disappointment in the right.
The economic recovery, I won’t talk much about that. It has a very unstable character, because it is on an unsound basis. In any case it contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction. And by the higher it climbs, and it could climb quite a bit, because there’s been quite a big accumulation of spending power which couldn’t be used during the pandemic, plus the continued injection of massive amounts of fictitious capital into the economy. It can ride for so long. How long? I don’t know how long. How long is a piece of string? But one thing you can be certain of: the higher it climbs the more violent the collapse when it comes, and it will inevitably come.
But that’s not a bad thing from our point of view, it will lead to a recovery on the industrial front. It is true that the union leaders, what a bankrupt bunch, they’ve been holding the movement back, it’s true. They want a quiet life you see, that’s all they ever want is a quiet life. In the past that was possible, but it’s not possible now. Of course, there will be new struggles opening up in which a new generation of class fighters emerge. The old leaders are dying or retiring or are about to be pushed out. And they’ll be replaced by more militant elements. The unions are going to be shaken from top to bottom.
I won’t talk much about Britain, at least I will only say a few things about it. The British comrades have plenty to report, very interesting things to report. And as I said earlier on, dialectically things turn into their opposite. The unions are subject to pressure like anything else. That can be seen in Britain already.
UNISON is the biggest union in Britain. Many are health workers, such as porters. But you must understand this was controlled by the extreme right wing for decades, I can’t remember how long. And looking at it even six months ago I am certain that many people would say: “Oh you can’t change UNISON, it’s solidly controlled by the right-wing, you can’t change a bureaucratic apparatus like that.” Well my friends it has changed, it’s changing right now. That’s a revolution actually, it sent shock waves throughout the labour movement.
There was a sweeping victory for the left on the NEC and it’s now purged the right wing and has got control over all the major committees in that union. And this has very serious implications for the whole of the trade union movement and also all of the Labour Party.
The Johnson government has picked a fight with the nurses who saved his life. Not a very good place to pick a fight. These hypocritical bastards. They have a policy of getting people to applaud the nurses. These nurses are our heroes, but when it comes to a pay rise, they offer them 1 percent, which is an insult.
Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party, was much more advanced. He said “no, no, don’t offer the nurses 1 percent, that’s a scandal, you should offer them 2.5 percent”… It turned out that the Tories offered them 3 percent. The healthcare workers turned on them and said no, 3 percent is an insult, it’s an insult to the people who put their lives on the line during this pandemic. You have a threat now of a strike. The Royal College of Nurses is the main union of nurses. It’s not even a union, it’s a staff association. It’s unthinkable that they would go on strike. But now they’re talking about taking action and they probably will. Unless the government makes a better offer. But this shows what I said, the level of anger and indignation that is there. Not just among health workers, not just in Britain either, it’s a universal phenomenon and it will take place. It will express itself. Defeated on the political front, the workers will inevitably turn to the industrial front in the next period.
We mustn’t look at the unions statically in a superficial sense. We must look at things dialectically, not as they were, but as they are, and as they necessarily will become. Even the most backward union will be shaken up to the foundation.
The subjective factor
So what’s the problem here? What’s the problem? There’s only one problem here. The main problem is a problem of leadership. This angry mood that does exist finds no expression in the leadership.
Of course we don’t write off the mass organisations, we’re not sectarians. But we must also be realists. We must not look at the mass organisations with rose-tinted glasses. It’s true we had the phenomenon of Corbyn, but that’s an exception. He played in the end a lamentable role like all the left reformists. The right-wing reformists are agents of the bourgeoisie clinging to the ruling class, it’s their greatest strength, and it’s also their greatest weakness. But the left-wing reformists cling to the right-wing reformists! “Oh, we must have unity, we must have unity!”
“We’re optimistic because our ideas are correct and they’ve been shown in practice. And that fills us with confidence for the future” / Image: Socialist Appeal
Corbyn could have carried out a purge of the right-wing, he could have done it with the support of the rank-and-file. That’s what Trump did with the Republicans. Why can’t the Republican establishment get rid of Trump? I’ll tell you why, it’s very simple: they’re terrified of him. With his demagogy, he’s got the active militant support of the rank-and-file. Any senator or congressman that goes against Trump, he’ll set the dogs on them, that’s what he’ll do. They’re terrified of him. And that’s what Corbyn should have done with the PLP. But he didn’t do that. He was very meek and mild with unity, unity, and they undermined him and destroyed him. And now that they’re in the saddle, they don’t talk about unity, they stick the boot in. Of course, that’s the difference between right-wing reformists and left-wing reformists.
These bureaucrats think they’re smart. They aren’t smart, they’re very stupid. They are clinging to the capitalist system at the same time as the capitalist system is collapsing and they will be dragged down, and the left-wing reformists will be dragged down with them. Which leaves a vacuum into which we can step, appearing clearly as a revolutionary tendency. These things in the last analysis will not be resolved by rules and regulations, they will be resolved in the streets and the factories.
In Italy for example – and again I don’t have time to deal with Italy – there is no mass workers’ party. But the mood of the workers is there, and that will be reflected in the class struggle in which new layers will be brought into the struggle. We saw it in France with the Gilets Jaunes. In India, with the farmers’ struggle. The whole tide of history is now moving in our direction.
But a word of warning comrades. This crisis will not be over quickly. It will be a long drawn-out crisis because of the absence of the subjective factor. It will not be a smooth protracted struggle. The present period will be one of sharp and sudden changes. Processes, which in the past took place many years to develop, can now develop overnight. The year 2021 will be a year like no other. The working class went through a very hard school. Many hard lessons will be learned, but they will be learned and that’s the point, and people will draw the necessary conclusions.
Now, I haven’t got much time left. I’ve forgotten to mention Iran, and the big strikes of the oil workers. Plenty of combustible material. And what is our role in this? Our International has experienced a very important development in the past two years. Our comrades have shown incredible resilience and audacity,and as a result we’ve grown massively, while other groups have experienced crises and splits and are disappearing into a well-deserved oblivion, disappearing over the horizon. We say bon voyage. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.
And the fact that we’ve seen growth fills us with optimism and confidence for the future. I think we’re the only optimistic people around. And some people say, “Why are you so cheerful?” We’re optimistic for one very simple reason: we are Marxists and revolutionaries, we base ourselves on science and perspectives. Pessimism and scepticism can influence nobody, they are useless.
We’re optimistic because our ideas are correct and they’ve been shown in practice. And that fills us with confidence for the future. But there’s no room for complacency. We must not exaggerate. We’re only at the beginning of the beginning. Our forces are small, they are growing but they’re still small, and we will face great challenges. And what I will ask is: great possibilities are opening up, you can see that in Britain right now, are we ready to take advantage of these great possibilities?
In Britain, the comrades have done very well. But we are not ready yet in many sections. And we must get ready as soon as possible to face these huge tasks. What we really require is an internal revolution. A psychological revolution, if you like. We must leave the old small circle mentality behind, we must leave this behind. We must professionalize from top to bottom, we must transform this into growth. We have the correct ideas and perspectives, but we must build a powerful army of cadres. That is the most urgent task. This Congress must play a fundamental role in realising this task. And with that prospect before you, I’ll draw my remarks to a close.