Tighten Your Belts and Forward March!

As the stock markets veer towards collapse, so does military rivalry flare up across the world. With the bloody war in Ukraine, the military standoffs in the air and seas around Taiwan, and a new wave of conflicts between regional powers, the imperialist actors are descending into bloody barbarism and toying with threats of nuclear warfare.

These competitive maneuvers on the geopolitical stage are expressions of the total crisis of capitalism. The main lines of imperialist conflict follow the real struggle for economic power and position.

The imperialist powers are becoming more desperate and are being flung into intensifying confrontations. Control over the main arteries of trade and strategic military positions (the Taiwan straits, straits of Hormuz, South China sea, Arctic sea, etc.) are now faultlines ready to erupt in imperialist war. The United States commands a chain of islands from Japan through Taiwan on, barring China militarily from the open seas and cutting off crucial world trade routes in the case of war. The United States knows Taiwan is the weakest link in this chain and has been escalating its rhetoric and military presence. From Biden openly saying they will defend Taiwan, Pelosi’s visit to tout democracy, to American and Canadian warships sailing through the straits, the United States is showing they are willing to go all in.

On their end of this imperialist rivalry, China’s Belt and Road Initiative seeks to tie world resource extraction to Chinese manufacturing. The initiative is tied to the long-term Chinese aim of supplanting American-led institutions as the global pole of world finance and production. The United States and Europe have long recognized this as a threat to their grip on the world economy. They are responding with mass exports of capital, including a G7 plan to invest $600bn in Africa to entrench their political and economic domination.

The American-led post-war financial order is under attack. Just earlier this year, China offered the Saudi government to trade oil in the Yuan, which would replace the longstanding deal to sell Saudi oil exclusively in the U.S. Dollar. The overwhelming use of the Dollar in trade and foreign exchange is a pillar of American power in the Middle East and across the world. No doubt the U.S. will do everything to maintain its grip on the neck of world trade.

Today’s horrendous war in Ukraine is the most stark expression of imperialism. While Western pundits describe Putin as an irrational madman, his lunacy is the real product of the crisis of imperialist capitalism. Russia is terrified of attacks on both the military and economic fronts, from the vulnerability of the Eurasian Steppes to NATO tanks to the expansion of the Eurozone into Ukraine. Ukraine has been a fundamental component to Russian capital since the time of the Tsars. If Russia can’t reconquer the East's manufacturing hubs, the country's vast agricultural production, and its critical gas infrastructure, it would no longer be able to compete against its far stronger Western rivals. Their invasion of Ukraine is the blood-soaked result of capitalist competition and crisis.

The war in Ukraine marks a new phase in the rivalry between the great capitalist powers. The “new world order” that emerged from the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, in which all major military and economic powers were (on paper) aligned with each other, has completely given way to the drive towards war. The tensions between Russia and NATO in Europe and between China and NATO in Asia can only escalate as the world economic situation makes each conflict all or nothing.

At the heart of the inter-imperialist economic and political struggle is the current crisis of capital. Each state is scrambling all available resources to avoid the looming recession. Global stock markets are on the downturn, while inflation, everywhere attacking the working class’s living standards, threatens capitalist economic reproduction. The yearly rate of inflation in the United States stands at 8.3% and at 7% in Canada. Though gas prices are lowering, overall inflation rises. Major corporations such as Fedex are reporting declining operations and lowered demand in the midst of economic uncertainty, showing to what extent the “post-covid recovery” was a mirage, carrying with it the seed of capitalist crisis now sprouting.

In response, the vast majority of bourgeois states are rapidly increasing their interest rates at three quarters of a percentage at a time. Led by Jay Powell’s Federal Reserve, there are 25 central banks increasing their interest rates to every one central bank decreasing theirs. By increasing the price of loans, they hope to slow down the rate of economic activity, thereby lowering overall demand and thus prices.

However, the current economic situation is not one of global growth at a breakneck speed. The economy is at a standstill, coming off a production crisis sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, the so-called real economy was stuck with low profit rates entering into the pandemic, barely propped up by financial policies established during the 2008 crisis. Kept on life support through quantitative easing and corporate stock buybacks, the economy was already trending towards another expression of its chronic crisis.

The crisis we are facing in full force today was provoked by the lockdowns of major sectors of the economy, limiting production. While the productive sector faced a serious decline in output, scrambling global supply chains tightened by “just-in-time” logistical tactics, capital moved towards speculative financial and real estate investments as a means to recoup its losses and maintain profitability. Speculative activity took up a massive portion of so-called “growth;” the housing sector constituted 43% of Canadian GDP growth in the first quarter of 2022. Meanwhile, countless corporations tied to the “real economy” continued operation throughout the pandemic with negative profit rates, animated like a puppet by strong stock markets and low interest rates. It was only a matter of time before the struggles of the productive sector and its “zombie corporations” came home to roost for finance, provoking a generalized crisis for capital.

The crisis of capitalism and its resort to imperialism has been deepening since the end of the last cycle of accumulation in the 1970s, bringing an end to the so-called “golden age of capitalism.” Since then, capitalism as a whole has skirted around the crisis with various means: central monetary policies, the movement of industry to cheap labour markets, the reorganization of production, and a generalized assault on the living conditions of workers. However, these measures only kicked the can down the road and elevated the depths of the crisis. The development of capitalist production results in declining rates of profits, furthering the tendency towards crisis. Although they do not consciously realize it, the various imperialist powers are increasingly forced to resort to war as the sphere of economic competition tightens.

The post-WWII boom was made possible by the vast destruction of global capital during the war; this allowed the United States, spared from invasion, to emerge at the front of the imperialist pecking order. In 1945, it controlled no less than 48% of all global capital. Since then, the American position has been waning, starting with the re-emergence of Japan and Germany in the 1960’s and escalating with the rise of China. While Germany and Japan have remained under the umbrella of American political and military power (and are increasingly rallying behind it), China has become a serious independent contender.

With the world’s second largest economy, the largest population, and thriving industrial and technological sectors, China has the ability to supplant the United States as the chief global power. Backing up its increasing collection of ports in the Pacific and Indian oceans as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, China has mustered a naval force now capable of challenging the American Pacific fleet. Next to this, more and more nations containing vital resources are turning to Chinese economic influence. China’s policies have resulted in a string of pearls of economic clout running through Asia into Africa and Europe. And now, to Washington’s nightmares, China openly plans to challenge the American Dollar, the United States’ most guarded pillar of power. Recognizing this threat, the United States is increasingly provoking conflicts with its rivals to check their rise.

Facing its own deep crisis, the capitalist class has one message to the world working class: tighten your belts and forward march! Offloading their losses onto workers and imperialist rivalry are the two solutions to the crisis the ruling class has formulated.

Prior to the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the bosses were engaged in a generalized assault against our class. As the lockdowns lifted and the social demand for labour returned, a new normalcy was introduced as the bosses were desperate to make up for their losses. Work was sped up, real wages declined, capital flooded into the housing market and rents soared, labour contracts were allowed to lapse, and strikes in key sectors were declared illegal under the guise of national unity, dutifully upheld by the unions.

In response to these worsening conditions, the working class took strike action across North America. Workers went on strike against long hours and chaotic scheduling at the Port of Montréal and the Frito-Lay plant in Kansas, while at the CPE daycare centers in Québec and the Casino de Montréal the workers fought against rapid rent increases and the increasing costs of groceries. In each of these struggles, the union played a role in their sabotage by diverting strike actions across multiple unions and by delaying strikes so that the bosses’ state could easily shut them down.

The generalized assault the working class has faced in order to ensure profits will only escalate as capitalism enters into a total breakdown. As the financial flight into speculative assets reveals itself to be a dead end, capital will come face-to-face with its systemic problem of low profitability, made even worse by inflated production costs. Like with the Volcker crash of the 1970s, the rise in global central interest rates will provoke an even steeper recession as a means to get the economy back on track. One is hard pressed to find a single economist with an optimistic outlook for the coming year! The point of sparking the crash through high interest rates is to lower wages even further and increase unemployment: that is, to hit the working class even harder. Capital’s only solution to its own logic is capitalist crisis.

With the intensification of imperialism and the coming crash, capital sheds any pretext of negotiation. As seen by the American rail workers and the British and Norwegian North Sea oil workers, no working class grievances can be allowed to stall the war effort for the bosses. All these strikes were declared illegal either implicitly or directly as a result of the states’ gearing up for war. For the working class to take a side in this life or death struggle between NATO and Russia would be a complete capitulation of its independent class position as any domestic struggle will be taken as a hindrance to the war effort.

The working class must respond to the deepening crisis, the bosses’ attack on workers’ conditions, and the escalating imperialist conflict with its own independent struggle on a politicized basis. Learning from the various covid strikes, it is necessary for the working class to break out of union domination and to generalize its struggles beyond sectors. Only in this manner can it actually fight effectively against its dire situation. This global situation of capitalism and the isolated economic struggle of workers during the pandemic reveal the necessity for the working class to constitute itself as a class through a world communist party. Today, the emergence of such a party seems far off. But to relegate this task to a historical situation detached from the real struggles of the working class and the real work of revolutionaries today would be to sit on our hands and to fail to understand that the party is both a product and agent of class struggle.

In response to this dire situation we are participating in the No War but the Class War initiative as a means for revolutionaries to fight for the internationalist perspective inside our class. Through this initiative and our practical work, we hope to intervene in the real struggle in our localities and bring them to a political basis against the bosses and their war drives. Capitalism makes the choice clear! Revolution or war, communism or extinction.

October 2022
Friday, October 28, 2022

Mutiny / Mutinerie

Mutiny is the bulletin of Klasbatalo. Mutinerie est le bulletin de Klasbatalo.