By LYNN HENDERSON
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the pundits of capitalism-its politicians, economists, media publicists, and corporate leaders-confidently proclaimed a new era. This new era has been described using a number of terms, such as “The New World Order” and “The New World Market Economy.” But the term that prevailed and has become most widely adopted is “globalization.”
With the so-called victory of capitalism, and the unrestricted spread of the market economy throughout the world, globalization, they proclaimed, would give the lie to the charge that capitalism was an unstable, crisis-ridden system, based on human exploitation, which enriched the few at the expense of the many.
On the contrary, in the words of Ronald Bosrock, executive director of the Institute for Global Expansion, “More than any government aid program or political movement, globalization would now change the face of world poverty.” And while the world might have to occasionally deal with the threat of state-sponsored terrorism, promoted by a few rogue governments, it would be free from the threat of war, which had been primarily engendered by the subversive attempt to spread world communism.
Globalization-i.e., the stabilization of property rights, the worldwide expansion of the market economy, the unhindered flow of capital, now enhanced and accelerated by the new electronic, information technology-would put the entire world solidly on the track to peace and prosperity.
This world view probably has its most euphoric expression in the 1991 book by former State Department bureaucrat Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History.” Fukuyama, who has become the darling especially of U.S. capitalist ideologues, argues that the collapse of communism signals the end of history.
After having passed through many stages of development, history has finally come to its end. This, of course, does not mean that time has come to an end. Life and death will continue, the seasons of the year and the passage of the decades go forward.
But what he calls liberal market democracies, developed in modern times, are the culmination of the human historical process, because, according to Fukuyama, they embody the fullness of the ideal of human freedom and the pursuit of happiness. Hence, history has reached its end, its goal.
Fukuyama proclaims, “Liberal democracy and markets remain the only realistic alternatives for any society hoping to be part of the modern world. History, in the sense of competing ideologies and systems, really has come to an end.”
And while liberal market democracies represent the culmination of all human history, U.S. capitalism specifically embodies the highest form of this civilization, triumphing over the lesser forms. The rest of the world, according to Fukuyama, will have to renounce much of its present cultural heritage to get onto the American road to freedom.
To some, Fukuyama’s ideas may sound akin to the proposal in late 19th-century France to close the Patent Bureau, since “everything that had to be invented was already invented.”
But there is an even more telling comparison-because this is not the first time that the “end of history” has been proclaimed. Nearly 200 years ago Friedrich Hegel, following the same idealist, philosophical methodology, proclaimed that human society had reached its ultimate goal of achieving the ideal state. And, he said, the long struggle and march of human history was at an end.
Only then it was the German Prussian state that was held up by Hegel as the final and successful culmination of all human history.
Apologies for why “things haven’t worked out”
The last 10 years have not been too kind to Fukuyama’s “End of History” vision, or Bosrock’s 1990 boast that “globalization would change the face of world poverty.”
In July, Bosrock wrote a full-page newspaper article admitting that things have not worked out as projected. He reports that despite a cross-border flow of capital to the third world of more than $450 billion in the early 1990s, the gap between the rich nations and the poor nations unfortunately continues to widen.
Bosrock cites a recent World Bank study documenting that the number of people who are in a state of permanent hunger number 1.2 billion-more than ever before. The study notes that fully one-fifth of the world population is currently living on less than $1 a day-another record statistic.
Bosrock, of course, throws out some excuses for why “things have not worked out.” He states: “Much of the money (available to underdeveloped countries) was squandered by corrupt governments on high-profile projects, that did little or nothing to help prepare the people of the local economy to become an acceptable host country for state and private investment.”
I picked Bosrock, but could have picked dozens, scores of capitalist apologists. Bosrock’s argument contains some of the typical claims-corrupt governments and high-profile projects-that they all make to explain why globalization hasn’t produced the convergence in incomes and standards of living that they predicted.
Of course, the corrupt government charge is rather ridiculous too, as most of these governments only exist at the bequest of U.S. imperialism, and a large number of them were actually created by U.S. imperialism.
Bosrock also criticizes the U. S. government for not providing more international aid to developing countries. He points out that among the 20 largest industrial nations the United States is last in international aid as a percent of gross domestic product.
The key thing is what he thinks the U.S. should spend more money on: Not to develop these countries, but to make them more acceptable host countries for U.S. investment.
Bosrock also suggests some solutions:
· We should insist that more of the money in third world countries “be used to develop an investment-promotion program that will make the country attractive to foreign investment.”
· We need to “set up a watchdog organization to monitor corruption and general administration and thereby establish some transparency in these countries’ (financial) transactions”.
In other words, in addition to the organizations the United States already controls and uses to intervene in these countries-the IMF, the World Bank, Export-Import Bank-he recommends setting up another international organization to intervene in these countries as a “watchdog,” not only for corruption, but to make sure the general administrations of these countries are the kind that the U.S. wants.
· And Bosrock says we should provide debt relief in third world countries “only where there has been a promise to develop commercial codes that have as their foundation the rule of law-and monitor its progress.”
Well, you know the old joke about the golden rule: whoever has the gold rules! What does he mean when he says, “the rule of law”? He means laws that U.S. imperialism feels are structured to its advantage.
All these so-called solutions entail tying developing countries even more closely to the globalization process and making them more subservient to it. In practice this means becoming more subservient to the control and dictates of U.S. imperialism.
However, while remaining a staunch cheerleader for globalization, Bosrock does express some apprehension that the U.S. may be becoming too closely or exclusively identified with globalization.
He writes: “…much of the world views the U.S. promotion of globalization as an attempt to further the quest for economic imperialism. … Last month I was in Europe, and during my visit a demonstration took place that had as its theme anti-capitalism and the U.S. role in what was portrayed as economic colonialism. The irony of this story is that the demonstration was not being held in a former ‘communist’ country, but in the financial district of London. Globalization cannot become another word for Americanization.”
Well, Bosrock, like most capitalists, wants his cake and wants to eat it too. He wants the U.S., through globalization, to control the economies and laws and to dominate the world; but when he sees the growing revulsion and anger of the peoples of the world at the results of globalization, he says, “we have to be careful, though. We want the United States to run it, but we don’t want to become too closely or explicitly identified with it.”
The virtually uncontestable fact is that a decade of globalization has been an unmitigated disaster for the peoples of the entire world. Not just the populations of the developing nations-but also the populations of the former so-called socialist bloc, whose Stalinist bureaucracies have adapted to market economics in an attempt to preserve their privileges. And also the populations of the advanced industrial nations.
The populations and working classes of all three sectors of world economy have suffered significant economic decline under the 10 to 20 years of globalization.
According to a massive report just released by the United Nations Development Program, the 60 worst-off countries in the underdeveloped world in 1980 have virtually all experienced significant further deterioration under globalization.
But this deterioration is not limited to the third world or underdeveloped countries. Russia and the former nations of the Soviet Union have experienced some of the most dramatic effects of globalization.
Quoting from the UN report: “The transition from centrally planned to market economies was accompanied by large changes in the distribution of national wealth and income. Data on income inequality indicate that these changes were the fastest ever recorded.”
The report says that “the number of people in the region living on an income as little as $4 a day rose to 32 percent of the population in 1994-an increase from 4 percent in 1988.”
The results of this kind of impoverishment are not merely statistical, they have real effects. The life expectancy of Russian men, for example, has fallen by four years since 1980, to 58 years of age.
The report points to a “decline in overall birth rates and high mortality rates in almost all the countries surveyed,” which it attributes to “reduced living standards, increased insecurity and unemployment, and the deterioration in social services, including health services, since the end of communism.”
Diseases that were contained by immunization, are reappearing on a alarming scale throughout the region. Since 1989, the suicide rate in Russia has risen by 60 percent, in Latvia 95 percent, and in Lithuania 80 percent.
What about the populations of the advanced industrial, capitalist nations? How have they fared under globalization? In this sector of the world economy, globalization has produced dramatic increases both in income inequality and poverty rates.
Quoting from the same UN report: “Recent studies show inequality rising in most OECD countries during the 1980s and into the early 1990s [as far as their data goes]. Of 19 countries, only one showed a slight improvement. The divergence and deterioration in real income was worst in Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.
“In the United Kingdom the number of families below the poverty line rose by 60 percent in the 1980s, in the Netherlands, by nearly 40 percent. And in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States at least half the single-parent households with children have incomes below the poverty line.” These are new statistical highs for each country.
The common market countries in Europe are experiencing recession conditions, with unemployment rates in excess of 10 percent. In Germany, the unemployment rate is in excess of 15 percent.
Of course, not everybody has done badly under globalization. According to the UN report, the 200 wealthiest people on the planet, from 1994 to 1998, increased their wealth from 440 billion to 1,042 billion. They almost tripled their wealth in four years. Not everybody does badly under globalization! If that were the case, it wouldn’t be the subject of a huge propaganda campaign to sell it.
Financial crisis in Asia
In Japan, the largest economy in Asia and the second largest economy in the world, globalization has produced not recession but a decade of depression. In the decade from 1990 to the year 2000, Japan is going to end up with a negative GNP, a negative growth in Gross National Product.
The Japanese economy will be smaller in the year 2000 than it was in 1990. This is a first, for any major industrial, capitalist economy since WWII. Of course, in the last two years Japan has been impacted by the broader Asian financial crisis. This brings us to that sector of the world-parts of Asia and South East Asia-called the “Asian Tigers”.
That was the one sector of the world that the advocates of globalization used to point to as confirming their enthusiastic projections. Under globalization these countries did initially experience significant growth in their economies, and even reductions of poverty rates in the general population.
But all of that was reversed by the Asian financial/economic crisis, and the subsequent Asian Contagion, with unemployment and poverty rates thrown back a decade or more.
As documented in the UN report: “In Indonesia an additional 40 million people (20 percent of the population) are estimated to have fallen into poverty. In Korea and Thailand poverty is expected to rise, with 12 percent of the population affected in each country-5.5 million in Korea and 6.7 million in Thailand.”
The report continues: “Virtually unknown for many years in Korea and Malaysia, unemployment rose in all countries-by 0.3 million in Malaysia, 0.5 million in Thailand, 1 million in Indonesia, and 1.5 million in Korea. Real wages declined: average real wages in Korea fell by nearly 10 percent in the 12 months following April 1997.”
The report also estimates the broader impact of the Asian financial/economic crisis, projecting that it “will have reduced global output by an estimated two trillion U.S. dollars between 1998 and 2000, putting millions of people out of work and prompting cutbacks in social services all over the world.”
China embraces “market economics”
China has been deeply effected by the Asian Contagion, but it has also been a key part of it. Like other Stalinist bureaucracies, the Chinese Communist Party embraced so-called market economics, in an attempt to maintain their political monopoly of power, and shore-up and preserve their material privileges. In this decade of globalization China received more outside investment, and increased foreign trade, than any other nation in the world.
But as globalization has soured, so has the economy of China. Unemployment, formerly nonexistent, has risen to 10 percent in urban areas and 30 percent in the countryside.
In adapting to market economics China has slashed social services, including free medical care. The results are reflected in a New York Times July 25 interview with a Beijing commentator:
“Nowadays people have to pay 70, 80, 90 percent of their medical expenses. But many people find it impossible to pay such large costs, so they turn to other ways of staying fit and healing themselves. That’s why Falun Gong and other types of qigong have so many adherents.”
But the same New York Times article gets to the heart of the matter when it reports: “The most intractable problem is that there are simply too many factories churning out everything from refrigerators to air conditioners to cars. Camera factories, for example, are operating at less than 20 percent of capacity, according to government statistics. Even companies that produce China’s once-ubiquitous mode of transportation, the bicycle, are running at no more than half their capacity.”
And this is what lies at the heart of the Asian so-called “financial crisis”: Not primarily corrupt governments, or bad banking procedures, or “crony” capitalism, but rather a classic crisis of capitalist overproduction.
The Chinese CP has recently responded by trying to inflate the economy and stimulate the domestic market as a way out. They are doing this by encouraging people to borrow more, take out loans, and spend more buying things. But as Wang Taochun, a 24-year-old clerk at a computer firm, typically responded in the same Times article: “How much I spend depends on how much I earn. Right now, I’m not earning enough.”
The Stalinist bureaucracies are also learning that you can’t adapt to globalization and world market economics without opening up your national economy to the action of those who run globalization.
On July 21, Standard & Poor’s Rating Services announced it had lowered its rating of China’s long-term and short-term sovereign debt, as well as of nine state-backed financial institutions. This was done in response to what it calls a dangerous expansion of credit by the Chinese government to bolster consumer spending.
U.S. working people also suffer
What about the United States and its population in this globalization process? The U.S. of course is in a unique position. It dominates and runs globalization. It controls and runs all the institutions of globalization-the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Export Import Bank, etc.
The United States utterly dominates the capitalist world and the globalization process-politically, militarily, and economically. It has become the Roman Empire of capitalist development, dispatching its centurions around the globe to serve and enforce the interests of U.S. capitalism.
Even in the area of popular culture the United States brooks no alternative-pushing aside, obliterating, and replacing existing cultures, throughout the world, with its Americanized version. For the United States today the largest single export industry is not aircraft, computers, or even armaments-as large as they all are; it is entertainment, in films and television programs.
Does the U.S. population, and working class, gain anything by living in the biggest, most powerful, meanest S.O.B. in the globalization game? Perhaps some, but not much.
For the time being the U.S. population has escaped some of the worst turmoil engendered by capitalist globalization. And for now it has escaped the recession and even depression levels of unemployment afflicting much of the world. But on the other hand, globalization has raised the U.S. population and its working class to the top of the list in a number of other rather unpleasant categories.
The United States has become the most economically stratified country-the country with the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any industrial nation in the world.
The latest Federal Reserve figures show that the wealthiest 1 percent of the U.S. population now own nearly 40 percent of the nation’s wealth. The top 20 percent control more than 80 percent of the country’s wealth and income.
Even notoriously stratified class societies like Britain, which inherited huge differences in income and wealth over centuries going back to the feudal past, have now been surpassed in economic inequality by the United States.
The United States now has the highest child poverty rate of any industrialized nation. The U.S. child poverty rate is four times the average of West European countries that are our principal capitalist competitors. And these statistics were gathered prior to Clinton’s “welfare reform,” which will assuredly increase this poverty rate significantly.
For those who do have jobs, American workers now labor in the longest and most intensive average work week of any industrial nation.
The 40 hour week is gone. One way is that more and more people must work two jobs. And all kinds of devices have come up in order to recalculate the workweek so you can work more than 40 hours without getting paid overtime.
The United States now has the highest percent of its population in prison of any industrialized nation. The number of Americans behind bars or on probation or parole will soon surpass the total 6 million students enrolled full-time in all four year colleges and universities nationwide. Within a decade the number of people behind bars will exceed the entire New York City population, currently about 7.3 million.
This growing prison population is, of course, not evenly distributed but concentrated among the most disadvantaged sectors of the population, who have been driven into the lowest levels of poverty.
And, in the most significant and fundamental statistical Numero Uno, the United States now has the lowest hourly industrial wage rate among its major competitors in the capitalist world markets-France, Germany, Japan, etc.
Capitalism’s Achilles heel
What is globalization? Globalization is not the salvation of capitalism. Globalization is not the ultimate world-wide victory of capitalism, culminating in a born-again rebirth, and a global flowering of capitalist prosperity, peace and stability. On the contrary, globalization is, and always has been, the Achilles heel of capitalism.
It is precisely in periods of globalization that all the contradictions of capitalism, all its weaknesses, are accentuated and raised to unsupportable levels.
Globalization is not a new or unforeseen phenomenon. Let me read a quote from “The Communist Manifesto.”
“The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the capitalist over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everything, establish connections everywhere. The capitalist has, through its exploitation of the world market, given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of the reactionary, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood.
All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilized nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw materials but raw materials drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed not at home, but in every quarter of the globe.
In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In the place of the old local national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production.
The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literature, there arises a world literature.
The capitalists, by their rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draw all, even the most barbarian nations, into civilization.
The cheap price of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the capitalist mode of production; it compels them to introduce what is called civilization into their midst, that is, to be come capitalists themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.
Now, when was that written? In 1848. I think Marx was 28 when he collaborated with Engels to write that. So globalization is not something new. Nor is this even the first time we have experienced an era of extensive, worldwide, capitalist globalization.
A few years ago, Alan S. Binder, then vice chairman of the Federal Reserve System, gave a speech-not a propaganda speech to us, the “great unwashed masses” but a speech to fellow members of the ruling class and their functionaries. It was a speech in which he reminded them of certain historical realities and cautioned them against becoming enamored with the current “buzz words” of their own propaganda.
Binder reminded his audience that the “new world market economy” is not new-or unprecedented-either in its size or impact.
He explained: “To a significant extent, the industrialized nations of the world only recently re-attained the levels of economic integration that they had reached at the eve of World War I. And a great deal of what we have been witnessing since 1950 is simply getting the world back to the level of integration that had been achieved in 1914.”
Binder continued, “Yet the financial ties of today are still a pale shadow of the links that spanned the globe at the start of this century. The billions of dollars that now slosh from country to country at the touch of a button are not as big-compared to the size of the economies involved-as the immense flow of money among countries before 1914.”
What happened to suspend this? We saw an unprecedented crisis of world capitalism, largely brought to a head by that era of globalization. Two World Wars, the Great Depression spawned by world capitalism in this most severe crisis ever, along with the massive confiscation of foreign investments that accompanied the successful 1917 Bolshevik revolution, and the collapse of European colonialism which that revolution inspired-all this combined to reverse globalization for 50 years.
But the victory of Stalinism beginning in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the most horrendous defeat the world working class has ever suffered-with its dire consequences for the Soviet Union and communist parties throughout the world-re-opened the door for a dying capitalism.
Periodic crises of capitalism
Modern Capitalism by its very nature is periodically and inexorably driven into a worldwide frenzy of murderous and destructive competition. That is the inevitable culmination of its crisis. This is what generated the surge of worldwide financial and economic activity that peaked on the eve of World War I and eventually led to the crisis of the great worldwide depression of 1929.
World capitalism today faces a classic crisis of overproduction. That is the source of the escalating economic crisis in Asia. It is not the product of some kind of “crony capitalism” unique to Southeast Asia, or Japanese “bureaucratic capitalism.”
If you’ll remember, not too long ago all the economists and pundits were telling us that in order for U.S. capitalism to compete in the “New World Order,” it would have to pattern itself after the “Asian Tigers” and Japan.
The “Asian Contagion” is at its heart a classic crisis of capitalist overproduction. And we must remember that capitalist overproduction is a peculiar kind of overproduction. From the standpoint of capitalist market logic, a worldwide glut in food overproduction exists-even as famine starves huge sections of the world.
Impoverished famine victims don’t make good customers for capitalist food salesman. Underpaid, impoverished workers do not make good buyers of capitalist products. Capitalists require customers with enough money to buy the products.
Yet, U.S. capitalism attempts to counter the emerging economic crisis, by temporarily boosting profits through slashing real wages and living standards. But this is no solution, it merely makes the next economic downturn even more severe and disruptive. When this present economic upswing ends, it will be the first so-called recovery on record in which the real wages of most U.S. workers fell.
Both major political parties praise and promote the economic program of “restructuring” and “downsizing,” which tells us that our crushed livelihoods and lives are the necessary fertilizer for a more competitive and profitable corporate America in the New Global Economy.
No, we have not entered some New World Order-a uniquely new, world market economy that requires us to junk all the class-struggle lessons of the past. On the contrary, after a long suspension, we are returning to a world much more like the one that generated the huge class-struggle upsurges characteristic of the earlier decades of this century.
What exists today is not some new evolutionary stage of capitalism called globalization. Rather, we’re returning to the conditions that set the stage for the great class-struggle upheavals that marked the earlier decades of this century. In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “Its deja vu all over again.”
But does this mean we are on the edge of a replay of 1929 and the Great Depression? A huge stock market crash, followed by a world-wide collapse of capitalist market economy?
History does not operate through replays. Major economic crises inevitably emerge in their own unique and specific ways. The specifics of their timing, pace, and evolution are more often than not, unforeseen by almost everyone, including radicals and Marxists.
And the U.S. ruling class of 1999 is not the U.S. ruling class of 1929. It is much more powerful, much more sophisticated, and much more competent than the ruling class of 1929. (This is true despite the example of the Clintons, the Bushes, the Nixons, etc. )
Unlike the present leadership of the American labor movement, the American ruling class learned some lessons from the crisis of the Great Depression and the labor upsurge of the 1930’s.
The American ruling class of the 1920s was indeed a ruling class that had succumbed to a belief in its own propaganda. They really believed if you just refrained from interfering with market forces, and gave them free rein to play themselves out, the invisible hand of the market would inevitably and ultimately steer the economy on the road to prosperity.
But in 1929 that invisible hand seized them by the throat and plunged them along with everybody else into the deepest, most precipitous economic crisis the world had ever seen.
We still get the same propaganda today: “The sanctity of the free market, the invisible guiding hand of market forces, no government interference, the need for smaller government, less government, and less government spending.” But the capitalists no longer believe this. And it certainly is not the basis for their policy and practice.
The stock market crash of 1987, in the percentage drop in the value of shares, was an even bigger crash than the infamous Black Friday of 1929. But the government and the ruling class reacted differently than in 1929. The day of the 1987 crash, Treasury officials got on the phone to every major stock brokerage firm in this country and told them the U.S. Treasury would stand behind any losses they took. They wouldn’t let this get out of control. There was no talk about “no government intervention” or allowing the “free and unimpeded reign of market forces.” And that didn’t happen in 1929.
The 1987 stock market bailout is, of course, but one of an ongoing policy of bailouts – the Continental Illinois Bank bailout, the Chrysler bailout, the Lockheed bailout, the huge Savings and Loan industry bailout a few years ago, the Mexican peso bailout, and most recently the huge bailouts and financial interventions associated with the so-call Asian Contagion.
These, of course, are all really bailouts of big U.S. and other capitalist investors and speculators. They do nothing to alleviate the economic and social disasters inflicted on the employees, populations, and working classes involve-quite the contrary. And all of this is funded through massive government spending and taxpayer’s dollars.
This demonstrates the commitment of the ruling class to use the full weight of the Treasury and the full weight of the most economically powerful government that has ever existed to say, “We’re not going to let this get out of control. … We’ll intervene as directly and massively as necessary and pump in as much money as it takes to keep things from cascading and spiraling into an out-of-control crisis.”
Does this mean that U.S. imperialism is now capable of indefinitely postponing a massive economic crisis, and explosive class struggle development. No-to believe that, would be to buy into Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis.
On the contrary, while its timing and pace are unpredictable, a massive economic crisis and class-struggle explosion are inevitable. But that does not mean that out of such a economic crisis and class struggle explosion, a more rational, humane society is inevitable.
There is nothing in Marxism and historical materialism that guarantees the ultimate victory of socialism. Even though capitalism may have completely exhausted any progressive capacity to further advance human society, and on the contrary is propelling us into ever deeper crisis, this does not inevitably lead to the emergence of socialist society.
The alternative can be a return to barbarism. We merely have to recall the rise of fascism and World War II, in the present day context of nuclear weapons, to appreciate that entirely realistic possibility.
Role of the revolutionary party
On a broad historical scale, and in the final accounting, economic forces are decisive in shaping the development of society. That is the fundamental theorem of historical materialism. But this truth of historical materialism does not negate the fact that the political preparedness and organization of the working class, directly and immediately affect the course, the pace, and the final outcome of the national and world revolution.
Under class society the workers are stratified and divided in many ways; they live under very dissimilar conditions and at different stages of economic and political development. More often than not their political culture is inadequate and their outlook narrow.
Consequently they do not, and cannot, all at once, en masse, and to the same degree arrive at a clear and comprehensive understanding of their real position in society, or the political course they must follow to end the evils they suffer from.
They do not-in some mystical, automatic way-know how to make their way to a better system. Still less can they learn quickly and easily how to act most effectively to protect and promote their class interests.
This uneven development of the class as a whole raises the need for an organized leadership, a revolutionary political party. It has to attract those elements of the class who grasp the requirements for revolutionary action sooner than the bulk of the population, on both a national and international scale.
The size and influence of our organization is never a matter of indifference to serious revolutionists. Nonetheless, size alone cannot be the decisive determinant for judging the real nature of a revolutionary grouping. More fundamental are the program, and its relationship with the class, whose interests it represents and fights for.
Where does the program come from? In the broadest sense the program is the distillation of the experiences, lessons, and history of the working class. These are not self-evident. The ruling class owns and controls all the major institutions of culture, communication, and education. They constantly use this monopoly to distort, rewrite, and wipe out, the history and lessons of working class struggles.
Lenin had a wonderful one sentence definition of what a revolutionary party was. He said “the party is the memory of the working class.”
The general tasks of a revolutionary party are sweeping ones. In the prerevolutionary period the vanguard assembles and welds together the cadre who march ahead of the main army but seek at all points to maintain correct relations with it. The vanguard grows in numbers and influence and comes to the fore in the course of the mass struggles it aspires to bring to a successful conclusion.
Then after the overthrow of the old ruling powers, the vanguard leads the people in the tasks of defending and constructing the new society.
A political organization capable of handling such colossal tasks cannot arise spontaneously or haphazardly-it has to be continuously, consistently, and consciously built.
It is impossible to stumble into a successful revolution in the United States. It will have to be organized and directed by people and a party that have at their command all the theory, knowledge, resources, and lessons accumulated by the world working class. Its know-how and organization in politics and action must match and surpass that of its powerful enemies.
Back in 1931 Leon Trotsky, one of the two principal leaders along with Vladimir Lenin of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, made some very prophetic observations about the economy and politics of the United States that I think are worth reviewing today:
“In the past, America has known more than one stormy outburst of revolutionary or semi-revolutionary mass movements. Every time they died out quickly. Because America every time entered a new period of economic upswing and also because the movements themselves were characterized by crass empiricism and theoretical helplessness.
Those two conditions belong to the past. A new economic upswing [in America], and one cannot consider it excluded in advance, will have to be based not on the internal equilibrium, but on the present chaos of world economy. American capitalism will enter an epoch of monstrous imperialism, of an uninterrupted growth of armaments, of intervention in the affairs of the entire world, of military conflicts and convulsions.”
All these factors now exist in the present worldwide economic situation and while the exact pace is impossible to predict we can expect a qualitative heating up of the class struggle in industrial capitalist countries throughout the world as capitalists try to solve the crisis of their economic system at the expense of all of us.