The worldwide crisis of capitalism and the relevance of socialism

Hong Kong Climate Student Protests

Hundreds of schoolchildren take part in a climate protest in Hong Kong, Friday, March 15, 2019.  (Kin Cheung  / AP)

By JEFF MACKLER

We reprint here the introduction to Socialist Action’s new pamphlet entitled, “The Worldwide Crisis of Capitalism and the Relevance of Socialism.” Authored by Socialist Action’s 2020 candidate for the U.S. presidency, Jeff Mackler, the article reviews the central ideas adopted by Socialist Action at its October 2018 Eighteenth National Convention in Minneapolis.

Socialist Action’s Political Committee and National Committee prepared the initial draft of the resolution in this pamphlet for consideration of the membership during the party’s three-month pre-convention period of internal discussion and debate in the lead-up to Socialist Action’s October 2018 National Convention. In its final adopted form herein, the resolution entitled “The Worldwide Crisis of Capitalism and the Relevance of Socialism” serves as the party’s assessment of the nature and depth of the present world capitalist crisis and, therefore, the framework for Socialist Action’s understanding of and participation in the myriad of social and political movements where working people struggle to improve their lives.

The pamphlet includes major excepts from a joint statement on the world economic crisis issued by Socialist Action (U.S.) and its sister party of the same name in Canada:

“Global capitalist competition, including the current trade wars, is a completely unavoidable aspect of the system of private profit. Competition results in new innovation/automation that increases the rate of profit for the initial innovator. But these gains are offset again by the rapid adoption of ever more advanced technology by competitors, and profit rates continue to fall.

“In this profit or die system those competitors that can’t keep up are driven from the field or forced to consolidate or merge with others to stay in the game. In the end the profit or die game is played by giant multi-national monopoly corporations that continue the competition on a global scale with dire consequences for all humanity.

“In their desperate struggle to fight the falling rate of profit capitalists try to reduce costs and increase their competitive edge by attacking trade unions and workers’ rights, by attacking wage and benefit levels, by attacking general social benefits such as education, health care, and pensions, by refusing to accept responsibility for the massive environmental damage caused by cutthroat capitalist competition, and by transferring production to low-wage, unregulated areas both within and outside their own countries…

“The world’s working people have no interest in this potential world conflagration. When capitalists win, workers lose—a fundamental law of the capitalist system. The common interest of workers lies in defending working people everywhere against all the onslaughts of capital. This means international solidarity on every front, from united worldwide efforts to organize workers into powerful unions to united opposition to capitalist wars and the capitalist destruction of the environment…

“There is no such thing as peaceful and/or regulated competition among capitalist nations. No self-respecting capitalist is in business to be the world’s ‘nice guy.’ There are only winners and losers in this deadly game of production for private profit.”

Today, with U.S. and global corporate profit rates continuing to decline, the major capitalist behemoths increasingly shun investments in new plants and have turned to unprecedented government-promoted speculative investments in the stock market, hedge funds, and other financial instruments that have generated massive paper profits and led to the present global shift of wealth from the vast majority to the elite one percent who own close to 50 percent of the world’s wealth.

In this financialization of capital process, giant paper bubbles of capital are produced with no corresponding creation of real value. The stupendous rise in the share values in the U.S. stock market has no relation to the actual value of the corporations. As in the 2008-9 crash/depression, yet another massive bust is on the order of the day, wreaking untold misery on working people.

Thus, any serious explanation of today’s increasing global misery; massive impoverishment; environmental destruction; persecution and demonization of immigrants; endless wars; and racist, sexist, homophobic and Islamophobic attacks have less to do with whether the Democrats or Republicans are in power at any particular moment than with the inherent contradictions in the capitalist system itself. It is these contradictions that explain both the rise of right-wing and neo-fascist currents worldwide on the one hand, and the rising and simultaneous interest in socialism on the other.

The ruling-class response is always to foster divisions by scapegoating and persecuting the oppressed; the socialist response is to unite all of capitalism’s victims in common struggles that aim at challenging the legitimacy of the system itself. In this context the resolution in its various component sections focuses on unifying, strengthening and fostering the independent mass action character of all fighting social movements.

Russia and China

The resolution takes up some of the important questions that have been in dispute in the broader socialist movement, including the nature of the Chinese and Russian states. “China,” the resolution asserts, is “a major and growing imperialist power in its own right, but considerably less developed in key areas than the U.S.” (See Keith Leslie’s “China: A New Imperialist Power,” soon to be published by Socialist Action.) Russia too, the resolution holds, is an imperialist nation “of considerably less weight in the world economy and in many other respects. Socialist Action’s analysis of the respective roles of China and Russia in the increasingly polarized world political situation, as with all other analyses, is subject to an examination of the facts and context at hand.”

Statewide teacher strikes

The resolution devotes considerable attention to the eruption, seemingly out of nowhere, of statewide “red state” teacher strikes in West Virginia, Kentucky, Arizona, Oklahoma and North Carolina, predicting that these may well be the heat lightning that sparks broader and effective fightbacks that portend a fundamental change in the present negative relationship of forces.

These teacher mobilizations employed a series of class-struggle strategies beginning with powerful statewide strikes accompanied by massive teacher-community rallies as opposed to isolated strikes in a single school district. Mass decision-making based on democratic discussion and debate marked an historic return to the kind of democratic fighting unionism that won major gains in decades past.

In this context the aroused and directly engaged teachers and their allies challenged and rejected the class-collaborationist directives of the union bureaucracy, which counseled caution and warned against strike action that “violated the law.” Indeed, this conscious mass defiance of capitalist laws prohibiting statewide strikes, in combination with broad-based demands aimed at improving public education and uniting parents and working class communities, proved to be decisive.

In West Virginia, teachers broke new ground by demanding and winning the restoration of funds for all public employees, that is, not only for teachers. In contrast to the usual one-day, token strike wherein teachers are called to state capitols to lobby legislators, teachers insisted that they would not return to work until their demands were met. And these included the key demand that the state legislature return to public education and public employees the billions of dollars that had been looted from state budgets and gifted to the corporate elite over the past decade. The teachers had the facts to prove it. Their demand to “Tax the rich, not working people!” was elevated from a slogan to an immediate demand.

This “red state” militancy undoubtedly inspired the Los Angeles and Oakland teacher strike actions that followed a year later—actions that demonstrated the power of teacher-community unity but lacked the decisive impact of the statewide confrontations in West Virginia.

Subordination to the Democrats

The Socialist Action resolution also took note of a critical weaknesses in the teacher-union movement and, indeed, in most social struggles today. Following the strike victories, the AFT and NEA leaderships pledged to run some 400 teacher candidates as Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections. Similarly, the leadership of promising social struggles led by Black Lives Matter, March for Women’s Lives, and 350.org, all of which have led massive mobilizations against racism, sexism, and catastrophic impending climate change, largely ushered these promising movements into the electoral framework of the Democratic Party.

Indeed, the 2020 national elections will undoubtedly see a concerted, if not unprecedented rush to “lesser evil” politics, as evidenced by the Democrats running some 23 candidates, all focused on proclaiming themselves best suited to “Dump Trump.” No doubt, all will dutifully unite, as was the case with Bernie Sanders in 2016, behind whichever candidate emerges as the top dog in capitalism’s carefully orchestrated election swindle. Already Sanders has been the first to sign such a unity pledge.

Receptivity to socialist ideas

Recent polls by the Pew organization, Gallop, and The New York Times report that a majority of youth under 30 prefer socialism over capitalism; for the Black communities over all age groups, the figure stands at 55 percent. Socialist Action’s recruitment of a new layer of Black and Latinx youth is a prime indication of the reality of this preference. Confidence in the capitalist system today stands at a low point in the modern era, while the appeal of socialism to increasing millions informs us that the times are propitious for revolutionary socialist ideas to sink deeper roots in broad layers of the population.

In this context, Socialist Action’s decision in mid-April 2019 to run its National Secretary, Jeff Mackler, for the U.S. presidency and National Committee member Heather Bradford for vice president offers the party a unique opportunity to popularize socialist politics and win new fighters to the socialist cause.

Similar polls register majority support for trade unions at a time when the percentage of union membership stands at a modern all-time low. The recent and impressive teacher strikes, the union mobilizations against the government budget shutdowns, and other militant strike actions inform us that a new layer of class-struggle union fighters is emerging.

DSA and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

In noting the mid-term election victory of New York City Democrat and Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the resolution states: “Here, we are qualitatively less concerned with criticizing the limitations of the Ocasio-Cortez campaign platform than we are in pointing to its overall confirmation that socialist ideas are increasingly finding a receptive ear among broad layers of the population.”

The resolution continues: “We need not review our historic opposition to any capitalist candidate or party. As we are fond of saying, ‘If Lenin ran as a Democrat on the Bolshevik program, we would not support him!’” Ocasio-Cortez and the DSA, their “socialist’ imprimatur notwithstanding, had no problem endorsing all Democrats in the 2018 midterms, including the ‘Blue Dog’ Southern racist variety and all other stripes within the spectrum of ruling-class politics.

Though they call themselves “democratic socialists”—falsely implying that other socialists oppose democracy—we prefer the traditional label, “social democrats,” which makes clear that the DSA and similar organizations are Democratic Party supporters first and foremost, who pretend that socialism—a fundamental break with capitalist exploitation and rule—can be won through electoral reforms and other incremental changes to the capitalist system.

Trump threatens North Korea

President Trump’s grandstanding negotiations with North Korea should not put anyone fearful of nuclear war at ease. For Socialist Action the starting point in explaining our views is our historic demand for the total and unconditional disarmament of the imperialist U.S. military nuclear behemoth. Not one penny for war!

Just as Trump abrogated previous treaties with Iran and the nearly worthless COP 21 UN Paris climate “agreement,” he and any future president, in the name of “national security” or some other pretext, is fully capable of invading and destroying any nation.

Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba

U.S. recent threats to invade Venezuela and Nicaragua, to further embargo revolutionary Cuba and now threats to send 130,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East to potentially wage war against Iran and Iraq and to deepen the imperialist war against Syria, inform us, yet again, that war is inherent in the imperialist system. Today, the bipartisan war-making parties speak the same language, whether it be in voting for the trillion-dollar annual war budget or in supporting Trump’s “regime change” wars in Latin America and the Middle East.

To abolish war once and for all requires the abolition of capitalism. An indispensable step toward this end is the construction of a massive, united front, democratic antiwar movement to challenge all U.S. imperialist wars against working people at home and abroad. The central demands of today’s antiwar movement must be clear and unequivocal: “U.S. Hands Off!” and “Self-determination for all poor and oppressed nations!”

Regardless of our most serious criticisms of the leadership of nations in the imperialist gunsights, we unequivocally and unconditionally defend their right to self-determination. While we lend no political support to these or any other capitalist governments, we defend their right to seek military aid from Russia and China or from any other quarter.

We fully understand that a mass revolutionary socialist party is an absolute necessity in winning a socialist world. But the road to the construction of such a party begins with winning the confidence and mass support of the working class. This begins with a program of unalterable opposition to imperialist intervention and war, whether it be in the form outright U.S. coup efforts, sanctions, embargoes, blockades, drone wars, privatized army wars and all the rest. Our revolutionary comrades and co-thinkers in any nation facing imperialist intervention and war stand on the front lines in opposition to all imperialist invaders.

Socialist Action on Syria

The resolution reaffirms the party’s previously adopted position. To wit: “With regard to Syria, our unconditional support to self-determination includes Syria’s right to seek allies and support against U.S. imperialist intervention and war from Russia, Iran, and the Lebanese-based fighters of Hezbollah.

“While we extend no political support to the capitalist Bashar Assad regime in Syria, or to any other capitalist regime, we remain unconditionally opposed to all imperialist efforts to remove it. The job of challenging capitalism in Syria is the sole responsibility of the Syrian people. The future construction of a mass revolutionary party in Syria remains a prerequisite to socialist revolution there and in any other nation.”

Latin America’s “pink revolutions”

Whatever differences have distinguished one of Latin America’s “pink revolutions” from another regarding the implementation of sometimes substantial reforms, all retained the essential social structures and institutions of the capitalist state. The fundamental ownership and control of the commanding economic heights of the nation remained in capitalist hands including the land and natural resources, the key banks and the financial institutions.

In sharp contrast, the Cuban Revolution of 1958-59, in the words of Fidel Castro leadership nationalized bourgeois property “down to the nails in the heels of their boots” and went on to establish a state of the working class. This is the preeminent explanation for why the Cuban state endures and all the others have suffered retreat and/or humiliating defeat.

Experienced revolutionaries, as well newcomers to the socialist cause, will find in this 2018 Socialist Action convention resolution, “The Worldwide Crisis of Capitalism and the Relevance of Socialist Revolution,” a resounding affirmation of the party’s confidence in the socialist future.

An acute analysis of the central and inherent contradictions of predatory capitalism today is combined with plan of action aimed at winning the present radicalizing generation of youth and all working people to the fight for new world where the fulfillment of the highest aspirations for human dignity, equality and social justice are primary.