A discussion on the dominant ideas of our epoch from a Trotskyist perspective
Challenging the ideology of ‘what is possible’
‘Capitalism has been unable to develop a single one of its trends to the ultimate end. Just as the concentration of wealth does not abolish the middle class, so monopoly does not abolish competition, but only bears down on it and mangles it.’
Leon Trotsky, Marxism in Our Time
There is no doubt that during the last 30 years a strategic change of scenario of the international situation has been taking shape. This change has modified the relations of forces between the fundamental classes under capitalism, as well as state-systems, as they were during the ‘world of Yalta’.
Among the currents of thought within the dominant ideas (the ideological and political influence of which is still expressed, in different degrees, in the so-called ‘extreme left’ or ‘radical left’ currents) two tendencies have emerged. On the one hand, there are those that, either from a right-wing or left-wing perspective, consider that over the last decades, due to ‘globalisation’, a real change of epoch has occurred. Among those who support the idea of the ‘irreversible’ character of the ‘new times’ there are differences and nuances, but they all share the view that the changes are such that concepts used to analyse reality during the 21st century have become redundant and that strategies with a working class perspective, therefore, no longer have foundation.
Among those who hold this view from a left perspective, there is a common opinion that what happened is a historical break-up that has modified the foundation on which the predominant strategies in use during 150 years of history of the working class movement have been based. This is regardless of whether the strategies are revolutionary, that is, postulated by classical Marxists, or reformist ones which reflect nostalgia for the times in which the welfare state ensured the ‘Keynesian compromise’ and during which permanent jobs and stable working conditions were the norm. They even think that the tendency for the old social relations to decompose and for ‘new subjectivities’ to emerge out of a more ‘flexible’ world constitute an opportunity, rather than a crisis. We will discuss these ideas, starting from the views expressed by two of their more important exponents, the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman and the theoretician of the autonomist current, Tony Negri.
On the other hand, there are those who emphasise the catastrophe unleashed by years of neo-liberalism and challenge the ‘globalisation’ currents for climbing on the bandwagon of the policy of the big monopolies, thus weakening the strength of the national states. There are also nuances between them – i.e. those who are fervent promoters of the European Union, those who have illusions in the revival of populist movements in Latin America, and those who see new reformist possibilities in the United States provided that Bush ends his term – but they have in common the view that the restoration of a strong state, either in the national arena or by forming transnational states, is the best way to battle against the ‘mercantilism’ of the world and ‘the things that are wrong with globalisation’. We will discuss here the views held by the American philosopher Richard Rortry and the Brazilian sociologist, Helio Jaguaribe.
There are also ‘combined’ positions, such as those expressed by the theoreticians of the ‘second modernity’, that like Bauman and Negri hold the view that we are living in a ‘new epoch’, and like Rortry and Jaguaribe that there is no agent able to replace the role of the state, although it may adopt ‘post national’ forms an go from ‘competitive’ policies towards ‘cooperative’ ones. Here our polemic will be with the arguments presented by the representatives of the organic intellectuals of capitalist Europe, among them Ulrich Beck, Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida.
These currents, in spite of their differences, consider that the perspective of the proletarian revolution presented by Marxism has been superseded by historical events. In order to justify their positions they carry out a double ideological operation.
The first one is to present a model which is a caricature of Marxism, based on the ‘theory’ and practice of Stalinist parties (social democracy has been increasingly abandoning any reference to Marx). This ‘official’ Marxism was sterile and conservative theoretically – it was a codification of a series of dogma that served to justify the adaptation of the Stalinist bureaucracy to coexistence with capitalist order. Thus, during the second half of the 20th Century this official Marxism was becoming transformed into an ‘ideology’ that incorporated many features of bourgeois thought: nationalism, economic reductionism, idolatry of the state, the culture of work and production, blind trust in the strength of ‘apparatus’ and technical progress, dismissal of the self-organisation of the masses and all kinds of spontaneous movements, etc. It is this version of Marxism that is attacked by theoreticians of various ideologies, who consider that, at best, some of the positions mooted by some ‘western Marxists’ – who developed their positions parallel to Stalinism – are still valid. However, they leave aside any reference to Trotsky’s legacy, which is the continuation of Marxism that has developed as a revolutionary alternative to Stalinism.
The second operation attempts to demonstrate that the transformations that took place under contemporary capitalism have substantially modified the ‘structural’ bases on which Marxist strategy was formulated. ‘Globalisation’, the ‘new technological revolution’, the ‘end of work’, the emergence of ‘new social movements’, will form altogether a situation in which Marxism becomes out of date and lacking in support.
During the last two decades of the 20th Century, the defeats of the working class across the world favoured the promotion of that point of view. The critics of Marxism also used the supposed ‘unanswerable failure’ of Socialism represented by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe, as well as the advance of pro-capitalist reforms in China. But, at the turn of the new century, some of the smoke started to clear for different reasons: because capitalism – from the crisis in Asia in 1997 to the crisis of the dot.com companies in 2000 – showed that it was not able to overcame its structural contradictions; because different forms of resistance were taking shape; because Bush had embarked on a pure and hard imperialist policy that undermined the rhetoric of ‘military humanitarianism’ of Clinton period. This change was also expressed in a growth of Marxist or pro-Marxist authors that confronted with weak arguments the theories in vogue. However, these arguments, developed either by academics or activists, in many cases adapted themselves to positions that, although presented as ‘novelties’, represent theoretical and strategic steps back.
In the present work we are going to show how false these two ideological operations are and try to demonstrate the superiority of the theoretical corpus of Marx and the ‘classical’ followers of Marx during the 20th Century, in contrast to the above mentioned ideological theories. Among them, Trotsky in particular left to us the most developed strategic and programmatic perspective on which we can rest today. This is the product both of his particular theoretical talent as well as of the fact that he survived longer than other great thinkers of his revolutionary generation – like Lenin, Luxemburg and even Gramsci. Thus, he faced new problems and had to develop the Marxist theory and programme. It is not an accident that nearly all contemporary theoreticians avoid or dismiss any discussion on Trotsky – thus leaving aside the thoughts of someone who is not part of the ‘vulgarisation’ of Marxist ideas of which they are so critical.
It is difficult to accuse Trotsky of being dogmatic, since his vast body of work is the opposite of the ‘hard’ or ‘closed’ Marxism that is criticised by academics. Trotsky played a key role in the Russian Revolution of 1905 and later in the seizure of power in October 1917, building from scratch the Red Army and leading along with Lenin the Third International before its bureaucratisation, making invaluable programmatic contributions to the first four congresses and to the international revolutionary movement. In his ‘mature’ works he maintained the continuity with this revolutionary tradition, providing answers to new problems like fascism, Nazism, Latin-American populism and the drive to the Second World War. Trotsky confronted the bureaucracy of the workers’ state that he had helped to found and paid with his life, maintaining a revolutionary attitude until his assassination. He formulated the theory of permanent revolution, a ‘revolutionary algebra’ which has not been superseded to this day. This theory has been complemented and enriched with the formulations of the Transitional Programme; he condensed the experiences of the international struggle of the Left Opposition against Stalinism and posed a method to overcome the lack of synchronisation between the maturity of the conditions of putrefaction of capitalism and the level of consciousness of the proletariat. He, far from conceiving that socialist society was consummated ‘in nine of its ten parts’ (Stalin) with the conquest of power by the proletariat, anticipated many of the contemporary debates by arguing that not only was the building of socialism inevitably conditioned by the advances of revolution on the international arena, but also that at the national level there was a series of problems that could not be automatically reduced to the political and economic sphere. He explained, in particular, in a series of articles in the 20’s, that once the working class was in power, there would be a disruption of all social relations: relations of production and distribution, relations between men and women, youth and adults, teachers and students, between production and technology, between work and production, between manual and intellectual work, between production and teaching, between production and cultural consumerism, between the countryside and the city in the backward countries; one could say that a real process of ‘permanent revolution’ in the cultural arena, in the widest sense of the term, would take place.
We are not motivated by dogma when we argue that Trotsky’s thoughts constitute a real alternative for the 21st Century, but by the belief that his works condense in the most complete fashion the experiences of the revolutionary generation of the previous century, and that there are invaluable elements in them that enable us to face the challenges of our times. This is not to deny that important changes have taken place or that some of the current contributions have elements of truth, but these contributions, as opposed to Trotsky’s dialectical thought, deny the contradictions contained in our epoch. In addition, the ambitious aim of building a new social system without exploitation and oppression contrasts with the impoverished theory of fighting only for ‘what is possible’ that surrounds us at present, whether it is presented openly or masked behind the supposed accomplishment of some of its goals as a result of the capital having overcome its own contradictions.
If one thing has characterised the dominant theories during the last years, it has been the tendency for them to rest on the defeats of the working class in order ‘to naturalise’ the conditions that have emerged as a result of the capitalist offensive, often presenting them as phenomena which are products of scientific and technical transformations – as if these could be considered independent variables. The paradox is that this criticism is maintained by theoreticians who do not hesitate to accuse Marxism of holding a linear view of historical ‘progress’.
In our view, not to appeal to Trotsky to give a revolutionary account of the challenges of our times would be like a physicist not considering Einsten’s works in his/her new investigations. Thus, the ideological operation of discrediting his theoretical and political legacy as ‘out of date’ is not an innocent action. This is to turn one’s back on someone who has provided us with the main theoretical and programmatic approach, the only one that has survived within the field of Marxism (who nowadays defends Stalinism?).
Trotsky and the changes in the capitalist world economy
Let’s put our affirmations to the test. At the beginning we noted that our ‘strategic framework’ was divergent from the one that ruled during the post-Second World War period during the prevalence of the so-called “Yalta order”.
We have seen important changes in the world economy, the system of states and the relationship between the main classes (and in the composition of the classes themselves).
In this article, we will explore these transformations and compare the different interpretations given to them, starting from some important theoretical and methodological considerations made by Trotsky.
This is a debate that has points in common with the debate that took place in the 19th Century, that is, when the emergence of the ‘imperialist phase’ gave rise to an intense discussion within Marxism, in which, like today, the dismissal of a dialectical analysis facilitated the claims that capitalism was becoming more benign as it developed, a position held by Eduard Bernstein and Werner Sombart. The growth of the power of monopolies and the process of internationalisation of capital was of such magnitude that even theoreticians like Hilferding talked about the existence of an ‘organised capitalism’ and Karl Kautsky, who was a critic of Bernstein from an orthodox perspective, developed the theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’ – a thesis that in Mandel’s words postulates that “the international interpenetration of capitals has advanced to a point in which the divergences among the decisive economic interests between owners of capitals of different nationalities have completely disappeared”.
At the same time, during this period Marxism enriched itself, theoretically and strategically, with the contributions of the third generation of ‘classical Marxists’ – led by Lenin, Trotsky and Luxembourg – in a way that it had not done since the time of its founders. This is according to the well-known typology by Perry Anderson ‘Considerations of Western Marxism’. In the heat of this debate the tools that would allow the proletariat to seize power for first time since the failure of the Paris Commune, were tempered.
At the end of the 30’s – when the world was on the verge of a new imperialist massacre – Trotsky remembered the discussion on the dynamic of capitalism: “The end of the past and the beginning of the present century were marked by such overwhelming progress made by capitalism that cyclical crises seemed to be no more than ‘accidental’. During the years of almost universal capitalist optimism, Marx’s critics assured us that the national and international development of trusts, syndicates and cartels introduced planned control of the market and presaged the final triumph over crisis. According to Sombart, crises had already been ‘abolished’ before the war by the mechanics of capitalism itself, so that ‘the problem of crises leaves us today virtually indifferent.’ Now, a mere ten years later, these words sound like hollow mockery, while only in our own day does Marx’s prognosis loom in the full measure of its tragic cogency”.
In the same article, he notes how in the middle of the ‘big crisis’, analysts of the New York Times committed the same methodological mistake as those who had predicted that capitalism was becoming more and more benign. The New York Times criticised Marxism for holding two, apparently contradictory, positions: that the world capitalist crisis was an expression of ‘capitalistic anarchy’ and that the economy was more and more dominated by a handful of monopolies, in the USA by ‘the sixty families’ that Roosevelt himself had denounced. Trotsky answered as follows: “It is remarkable that the capitalist press, which half-way tries to deny the very existence of monopolies, resorts to these same monopolies in order half-way to deny capitalistic anarchy. If sixty families were to control the economic life of the United States, the New York Times observes ironically, ‘it would show that American Capitalism, so far from being “plan-less”… is organised with great neatness.’ This argument misses the mark. Capitalism has been unable to develop a single one of its trends to the ultimate end. Just as the concentration of wealth does not abolish the middle class, so monopoly does not abolish competition, but only bears down on it and mangles it. No less that the ‘plan’ of each of the sixty families, the sundry variants of these plans are not in the least interested in coordinating the various branches of economy, but rather in increasing the profits of their own monopolistic clique at the expense of other cliques and at the expense of the entire nation. The crossing of such plans in the final reckoning only deepens the anarchy in the national economy. Monopolistic dictatorship and chaos are not mutually exclusive; rather, they supplement and nourish each other. The crisis of 1929 broke out in the United States one year after Sombart had proclaimed the utter indifference of his ‘science’ to the very problem of crises”. (Our emphasis)
As we will see, most of the mystifications held by contemporaneous theories on ‘globalisation’, either those who celebrate it or those who oppose it, defending the ‘state’ against the ‘market’, fall into the same methodological error of not understanding that “capitalism has been [and is] unable to develop a single one of its trends to the ultimate end”.
Arguing with the positions of some of the most representative authors of these views, we will try to demonstrate that Trotsky’s definition is still an irreplaceable point of departure to give an account of the dynamic of the contemporary world.
We also start from the most general ‘law’ that Trotsky has assumed as characteristic of capitalist development; i.e. the law of uneven and combined development, which was formulated originally to give an account of the peculiarities that explained that the first socialist revolution in the world took place in a backward country like Tsarist Russia. “The laws of history have nothing in common with a pedantic schematic view. Unevenness, the most general law of the historic process, reveals itself most sharply and complexly in the destiny of the backward countries. Under the whip of external necessity their backward culture is compelled to make leaps. From the universal law of unevenness thus derives another law which, for the lack of a better name, we may call the law of combined development – by which we mean a drawing together of the different stages of the journey, a combining of separate steps, an amalgam of archaic with more contemporary forms. Without this law, to be taken of course in its whole material content, it is impossible to understand the history of Russia, and indeed of any country of the second, third or tenth cultural class”.
Finally we will note that the fact that the national economy has outgrown the national boundaries is not a novelty for Marxists, in spite of the claims made by ‘globalisation’ theoreticians. As was remembered in many works written a few years ago on the 150th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto, the tendency towards the internationalisation of the productive forces was noted by Marx in the middle of the 19th Century, and at the beginning of the 20th Century the leap of capitalism from its initial phase of ‘free competition’ to its imperialist phase, gave rise to new developments in the conditions of the world economy with implications for revolutionary strategy. In Trotsky’s case, the relationship between the capitalist economy taken as a whole and the particular form it took in Russia allowed him to present in an original way the perspective of the permanent revolution, as opposed to the mechanical interpretation of Marx’s thesis by the Menshevik theoreticians. Therefore, he formulated in Results and Prospects the audacious and innovative proposal that the Russian proletariat would seize power, leading the peasant masses and hoisting the flag of the democratic revolution, but that from the beginning it would be obliged to attack capitalist ownership; thus, the revolution would move from democratic into socialist. That perspective would materialise with the triumph of the October Revolution, eleven years later. Neither Trotsky nor Lenin thought that the seizure of power by the Russian proletariat was sufficient for advancing towards socialism; the condition for this latter perspective was the development of the revolution in Europe, and in Germany in particular.
Therefore, Stalinism with its theory of ‘building socialism in one country’ represented a true regression in relation to a position that was generally agreed upon by most revolutionary theoreticians. Trotsky noted in the Permanent Revolution: “Marxism takes its point of departure from world economy, not as a sum of national parts but as a mighty and independent reality which has been created by the international division of labour and the world market, and which in our epoch imperiously dominates the national markets. The productive forces of capitalist society have long ago outgrown the national boundaries. The imperialist war (of 1914-1918) was one of the expressions of this fact. In respect of the technique of production socialist society must represent a stage higher than capitalism. To aim at building a nationally isolated socialist society means, in spite of all passing successes, to pull the productive forces backward even as compared with capitalism. To attempt, regardless of the geographical, cultural and historical conditions of the country’s development, which constitutes a part of the world unity, to realize a shut-off proportionality of all the branches of economy within a national framework, means to pursue a reactionary utopia. […] The foundation of the activities of every Communist Party…must be the general features of capitalism, which are the same for all countries, and not its specific features in any given country. It is precisely on this that the internationalism of the Communist Parties rests. The specific features are merely supplementary to the general features”.(our emphasis)
Trotsky, like Lenin and Luxembourg, considered the capitalist world economy to be an interdependent entity, and not a mere sum of national economies. In the above quote we can see clearly that Trotsky had a theoretical starting point that, although it emerged from a process that had already existed at the beginning of the last century, advanced tendencies that have expressed themselves more acutely with the growth of the internationalisation of the productive forces that has taken place over the last 30 years. To take Trotsky’s considerations as a standpoint is unavoidable if one wants to get closer to what happened in the recent historical period, while avoiding at the same time the very common error of a one-sided analysis.
To a greater extent than was seen in Lenin and Trotsky’s times, but underlining their vision of capitalism as an interdependent world entity, today there are chains of production that are internationally connected, and there are countries whose main role is to provide assembly plants for the products whose components have been manufactured in other states and regions. While most of the highly sophisticated technology is concentrated in a handful of nations, the nations that had developed a certain degree of industrialisation under the ‘import substitution’ process, have now gone back to be mainly providers of raw materials.
As a way of increasing their benefits, monopolies have taken advantage of each sector of the internationalised economy, including the planning and coordination of jobs in a way that no one foresaw, using the development of informatics to plan production in accordance with changing demand. None of this has led mankind to a superior stage or to internationally ‘coordinated’ production; on the contrary, because it is done in an anarchic way, it has increased the inequality between a handful of privileged countries and a world that is still fighting poverty and indigence, a phenomenon that repeats itself in the interior of each country. Therefore, there is a fraction of the labour force which is highly skilled alongside forms of exploitation that were common in the capitalism of 19th Century. Mankind has enormous resources, but the unequal distribution of wealth has reached unprecedented limits. We have seen an increasing process of uneven and combined development, with huge contrasts as can be seen in any contemporary urban area. This is not to say that we are in a completely globalised world, where territories do not play any role. Although the pressure from the world capitalist market on ‘local markets’ is greater today than in the entire 20th Century, production that crosses national borders represents 20% of world products, a figure boosted by the fact that branches of transnational companies represent 10% of global production. The dominance achieved by capital in regions into which it could not penetrate in the second half of the 20th Century, including China, has imposed more and more the tendency to internationalise prices of manufactured products. However, the growth of the market for manufactured goods is concentrated in the G7 countries and other selected countries like China, the NICs, India, Brazil and South Africa. Finance has also achieved a more important place within capitalist business, and is the more ‘globalised’ sector due to the use of IT. This growth in speculation is precisely because this is the area with more benefits, due to the difficulty of extracting surplus value in the traditional branches of industry because of the increase of the ‘organic composition’ of capital.
So for anyone who thinks from a Trotskyist perspective, the globalisation theoreticians’ assertion that “there are no local solutions to global problems” is not new. This statement, which is strategically correct, could become its contrary if we use it as a premise. To consider that a communist society cannot be constructed in a single country does not mean that such a society can be achieved without making revolutions at the national level. Countries in which socialist revolution had taken place would become real ‘strongholds’ on the road to socialism for the workers and exploited masses internationally. In spite of the internationalisation of the productive forces, how do the globalisation theorists imagine that workers and the exploited masses will take control of the most developed means of production – which are today in the hands of the big monopolies – for the benefit of mankind without breaking the power of the capitalist states? In order to do so, we still need to conquer political power.
The unbearable unilateralism of the globalisation theoreticians
We will now consider the view that globalisation has caused a change of epoch. One can note that the authors that hold this view, to a greater or lesser extent, believe that capitalism has managed to overcome its own original contradictions and that it has now developed ‘its trends to the ultimate end’. According to them, this process took place both in the sphere of labour (for Negri, the hegemony of ‘non-material work’ expresses the materialisation of the trends indicated by Marx towards the dominance of ‘abstract work’, and would make the law of value obsolete) and in the autonomy of capital from the national states, the existence of which is becoming something from the past. For them, capitalism has suffered important mutations, although political forms that express those changes have not yet emerged. Thus, all political thought that prevailed during ‘modernity’ has become obsolete and should be dumped.
Zygmunt Bauman, one of the most important sociologists at present, holds a view typical of this kind of analysis, from a ‘reformist’ standpoint. In one of his latest works, Society under Siege, he counterposes the features of ‘liquid modernity’ in which we live to the ‘solid modernity’ characteristic of the 19th and 20th Centuries; and that was analysed by classic sociology. He notes that: “The present-day political sovereignty of states is but a shadow of the many-faceted political / economic / military / cultural autonomy of states of yesteryear modelled after the pattern of Totale Staat. There is little that the sovereign states of today can do, and even less that their capital, finance and trade (including trade in culture) can do. If pressed by its subjects to reassert their own standards of propriety and justice, most governments would retort that there is nothing they can do in this respect without ‘alienating the investors’ and so threatening the GNP and the welfare of the nation and all its members. They would say that the rules of the game in which they are compelled to play have been set (and can be revised at will) by forces on which they have minimal, if any, influence. What forces? As anonymous as the names behind which they hide: competition, terms of trade, world markets, global investors. Forces without fixed addresses, extraterritorial unlike the eminently territorial powers of the state, moving freely around the globe unlike the agencies of the state that for better or worse, but once and for all, stay fixed to the ground. Shifty and slippery forces, elusive, evasive, difficult to pinpoint and impossible to catch”.
This situation would lead to a decline in interest in common issues on the part of individuals: “This wilting of interest is aided and abetted by the state only too glad to cede as many of its past responsibilities as possible to private concerns and worries”. At the same time, “there is a growing impotence of the state to balance the books inside its frontiers or to impose the standards of protection, of collective insurance, ethical principles and models of justice that would mitigate the insecurity and alleviate the uncertainty that sap individual self-confidence, that necessary condition of any sustained engagement in public affairs.
“The joint result of the two processes is a widening gap between ‘the public’ and ‘the private’, and a gradual yet relentless demise of the art of two-way translation between private problems and public issues, that life-blood of all politics. Contrary to Aristotle, it seems, the notions of good and evil in their present-day privatised form no longer generate the idea of the ‘good society’ (or of social evil, for that matter); and whatever hope of a supra-individual goodness is conjured up, it would hardly be vested in the state.”
He insists that: “There are no local solutions to global problems” and that “An effective response to globalisation can only be global. And the fate of such a global response depends on the emergence and entrenchment of a global (as distinct from ‘international’, or more to the point interstate) political arena. It is such an arena that is today, most conspicuously, missing. The existing global players, and for obvious reasons, are singularly unwilling to set it up […] Truly new forces are needed to re-establish and reinvigorate a truly global forum adequate to the globalisation era – and they may assert themselves only through bypassing both kinds of players”.
Bauman’s analysis belongs to the tradition of critical sociology, and some elements of the analysis are reminiscent of those put forward by Wright Mills in The Sociological Imagination, in which he addresses the discomfort of contemporary man because of his inability to transform his ‘private troubles’ into ‘public issues’. In the United States during the cold war, Mills’ eclectic pragmatism could not go beyond the ‘pessimistic’ thesis on the irreversible tendencies of the ‘bureaucratisation of the world’; however, in Bauman there is a contrast between his observations on changes in the experience of our times and his adherence to superficial theses on the overcoming of class societies; thus, he cannot go beyond a minimalist position, or a moral exhortation, when thinking about ways to face the problems of our time. This contrast is probably based on the fact that society is not seen in terms of a ‘mode of production’ – as Marxism sees it – and social relations are seen as something happening in ‘imaginary communities’ by the individuals, very similar to Durkheim and other non-Marxist sociologists. Therefore, the term ‘capitalism’ is absent in Bauman’s work.
Negri’s reasoning in Empire and other later texts is on the same line of thought; he also claims the existence of a new epoch, although he does this from a ‘communist’ and so-called ‘revolutionary’ perspective. Acknowledging criticisms and the fact that the book that he co-authored with Michael Hardt “does not deal with fundamental issues: on the one hand, the strong American demand on unilateralist imperial action; and on the other hand, the perfection of the means of control up to and including the war, and that sometimes are inherent”, in a recent work Negri goes back again to the “two or three theses on which the structure of the discourse in Empire is based”. The first thesis asserts that “there is no globalisation without regulation”. Precisely ‘Empire’ would be the transitory way of regulation chosen by the current phase of globalisation. The second thesis is that ‘the sovereignty of the Nation state is in crisis and is going in another direction. The problem is to define where it is going; this conflict remains open. Therefore, we say that imperial sovereignty is a ‘non-place’[…] the nation state no longer exercises central control over culture, language and information, because it is permanently criss-crossed by antagonist currents and multiple linguistic and cultural intrusions that take away the possibility of having a hegemonic position and dominating the cultural process”. Finally he notes “a third fundamental thesis of the work of Empire”, which is in line with the assumption that the newly mentioned phenomena happened “within the relation of capital: this is the main scientific aim of Empire, and it is obvious that here we follow the trail of Marxist teaching. Naturally, this Marxian strategy is subordinated to a new and creative experimentation, and to the sense of the originality of the analysed situation. The class conflict in which we are immersed, the experiences felt regarding power, the practice of resistance and exodus that we are living through, as well as the labour activity that constitutes us, are, indeed, different from those experienced by Marx. What remains important is the fact that the struggle, the social division within capitalist relations, is what constitutes all political reality”.
Contrary to Bauman, Negri insists that the formation of the empire goes hand in hand with the emergence of a new antagonistic subject – the multitude – that from Seattle to the present time has expressed itself in the form of ‘a movement of movements’. This multitude, according to Negri, should assume that the situation has changed since Lenin formulated his revolutionary ideas: the situation has changed radically, there is no longer a working class that regrets the lack of a project to manage industry and society, either directly or mediated through the state. And although this project could be reactivated, it could not have a hegemonic character over the proletariat and over the intellectuality of the masses; it could not constrain capitalist power that is now diffused towards other powerful sectors (financial, bureaucratic, communicative, etc). At present, therefore, a revolutionary initiative should be based on another constituent scheme: one that does not make industrial and/or economic development the most important axis, but rather the multitude through which the intellectuality of the masses is configured, and which proposes a programme for a liberated city in which industry gives way to vital needs, society to science, and work to the multitude. The constituent decision is transformed, here, into the multitude”.
In both authors we note a similar pattern of analytic error; that is, to think about phenomena that develop in only one direction, moving according to a homogeneous logic and not one that is uneven and combined. Therefore, they hold one-sided positions, and, in spite of starting from a set of correct facts, they reach wrong conclusions.
Focusing on Negri’s analysis, his correct points of departure are:
a) The big monopolies and corporations have increased enormously over the last 30 years, binging under their direct control sectors of the economy that before the war were under state control;
b) The conquest of new territorial markets and the creation of new spheres of human activity under the monopolies’ domain;
c) The dominant powers attempt to ensure that the economic control that they exercise in areas of the ‘global market’ is expressed in juridical and political supranational institutions;
d) These two phenomena have led to a certain weakening of the sovereignty of the national states - at different levels, however, in each case;
e) The scientific and technical developments intensify the contradiction between an increasingly socialised and complex production and with the imposition of a rate (‘paltry’ according to Marx) that allows its valorisation and exchange;
f) The massive immigration in imperialist countries is producing important changes in the ethnic composition of the population, generating an increasing crisis of ‘integration’ of the new immigrant labour force; with the strengthening of xenophobic tendencies among important – although minor for the time being – sections of the native population;
g) New labour conditions have been applied at a world level under two whips: instability and unemployment;
h) Particularly in developed countries, the number of workers in the service sector has increased in relation to those in industry and, in general, during the last 30 years we have seen important changes in the composition of the working class;
i) Among the changes in the composition of the working class are: an increase in the number of women in the labour force, and a growth in number and importance of the ‘intellectual’ labour force;
j) The development of the electronic mass media, monopolised by the great powers, tends to spread hugely the ‘dominant culture’;
k) Owing to the business practices of the great corporations, and the role of the administrative, academic and scientific technocracy, there are important sectors of the ‘elites’ in different countries that live in a more and more ‘transnationalised’ way;
From these premises Negri draws a number of conclusions that lead him to state that we are facing a real ‘change of epoch’, which is characterised by:
i) The free mobility of capital in all areas and the constitution of a ‘global’ capital, that will leave the inter-imperialist conflicts characteristic of the 20th Century as something from the past;
ii) The disappearance of the national state and its replacement by ‘global’ forms of sovereignty, that makes it impossible to support any policy that calls for the seizure of power or the overthrow of the state;
A global distribution of wealth and poverty, which will lead to the disappearance of the distinctions between imperialist and semi-colonial nations;
iii) The hegemony of ‘non-material’ work and the decline in the specific weight of wage earners, as a consequence of which the working class will no longer exist and will, therefore, not have the chance to exert a hegemonic role over the oppressed sectors;
iv) Related to the previous point, the emergence of a new subject of resistance, the ‘multitude’, that will be an expression of productive forces that are dominated by the ‘general intellect’, a subject that is not characterised by its capacity to sell its labour power to capital, nor by working alongside others in a common workplace where the production process takes place. This means that there will be no support for any class policy either at a ‘national’ or a ‘global’ level.
v) Negri’s one-sided view deals with phenomena that only act as tendencies, and leads him to say that communism is ‘within reach’ and that in order to achieve it there is no need of a ‘transition’; he thus overestimates the possibility of capital overcoming its own contradictions. That explains why when one reads Negri one has the impression that capitalism has changed so much that … it is not capitalism any longer. This overestimation of the ‘objective conditions’ acts, at the same time, as a justification for a ‘subjective’ practice that accepts the ‘misery of what is possible’.It means that in spite of all their rhetoric, autonomist currents typically only put pressure on the powers that be.
The absence of ‘capitalist equilibrium’
Let’s contrast these positions, trying to transform Trotsky’s ‘algebra’ into arithmetic formulations that allow us to point out the features of the ‘strategic framework’ that has developed over the last years. In previous articles we have noted that Trotsky’s concept of ‘capitalist equilibrium’ analyses the dynamic of the system, taking into account the economic situation, inter-state conflicts and antagonisms, and the class struggle. In doing that, we avoided falling into a mechanistic analysis of a different sort while we were trying to define whether times were more convulsive or not, applying a Leninist method to identify the ‘weakest links’ where the revolutionary process is likely to develop. Applying this method to the present, the truth is that since the rupture of the relative capitalist equilibrium by the class struggle at the end of the 60’s and by the economic crisis of 1973-75, the world economy has only managed to achieve partial and precarious stabilisation. In spite of those who defend the thesis that capitalism is able to overcome its own contradictions, it is a fact that since the beginning of the 70’s world capitalism suffers from a ‘crisis of accumulation’ that it has not been able to overcome. In spite of the brutal offensive launched on workers, scientific and technological developments, and the conquest of new markets and new areas of dominance (e.g. China), the average growth of the economy is well behind that of the ‘boom’ period. If we compare the average growth in the four main capitalist economies during 1960-73 and 1980-94, we can see very clearly (in table 1) the decrease in the capitalist growth rate:
Robert Brenner, in his book The Boom and the Bubble, holds a similar view, giving account of the declining economic dynamism of the world economy:
Table 2 – Declining Economic Dynamism
(Average annual percentage change)
* 1960-73** 1973-79
Source: Robert Brenner, The Boom and the Bubble, Verso, 2002.
We can observe that, although the performance of the American economy in particular has improved in the second part of the 90’s, fuelling nonsense about the ‘new economy’, the average growth in GDP in that decade did not exceed the growth in the 1970’s, which was considered meagre. This is without taking into account the figures for Japan, Germany or the European Union.
In our view, the difficulties for world capitalism in achieving a new, extended equilibrium rest on the tendency for the decay in the hegemony of North America, whose leadership in the west was undisputed during the ‘boom’ period (and during which it generated 40% of the world gross product as opposed to 25% at present), and which today is highly challenged by its European and Asian rivals, despite the recovery of its position and the illusion of its ‘unlimited dominance’ during the 90’s.
Therefore, statements that affirm that there is a single ‘global’ capital that makes inter-imperialist disputes something of the past are superficial. The truth of the matter is that this is not a new discussion for Marxists. As we pointed out, Kautsky and others argued that the tendency was towards the formation of a single world ‘trust’, giving way to an ‘ultra imperialism’. Lenin fought against this position (as did Trotsky and Luxembourg, although the latter explained the functioning of imperialism and the causes of its crisis with different arguments), not because he denied the tendency towards the concentration and centralization of the monopolies, but because he thought that this tendency could not dominate over either the furious competition for markets by the monopolies, or the resistance of the proletariat, and for that reason, monopolies would need the help of national states. To believe that monopolies can lead to the overcoming of competition, or that because the movement of capital is deregulated the national state can be discarded, is simply to believe that capitalism has managed ‘to develop its trends to the ultimate end’.
On the contrary, since the 70’s the world economy has been divided into three big imperialist blocks. The tendency for the emergence of regional blocks is a policy by the dominant nations to compete in better conditions against their rivals. David Harver, whose most recent work is The New Imperialism, holds that “what the United States is concerned about is controlling Middle Eastern Oil … this concern has become even more important now, and not only to protect American oil supplies, the sources of which are very diverse, but to control the global economy and to make sure that there is no economic challenge by other economic blocks – in the first place, Japan and China, which do not have their own oil supplies and depend on the Middle East, and to a certain extent Europe (…) We have, therefore, three blocks of power: East Asia, the United States and the European Union, with a high level of competition between them. This will lead to a competitive imperialism similar to the one analysed by Lenin at the beginning of the 20th Century, with the difference that at present the competition is between blocks of powers instead of countries.” Although the productive forces have internationalised, capital has not ‘globalised’ in a hegemonic way, rather it has developed in a combined and uneven way. Most of ‘direct foreign investment’ is concentrated in G-7 countries and in a handful of countries, like China and others in east and south-east Asia. Mexico, Brazil and Argentina were part of that ‘club’ during the 90’s until the crisis provoked a change of direction. The tendency for the formation of economic and ‘global’ spaces has taken place in conjunction with the emergence of new states and different intermediate blocks (i.e. the European Union, NAFTA, APEC and Mercosur) and through these agreements the imperialist powers seek to guarantee privileged access to different markets. We observe a dialectic that operates in the world: as it ‘globalises’ it divides. As was pointed out by Bensaïd: “Far from creating an homogeneous political space, the imperial ‘mundialisation’ increases the inequalities and reinforces the relations of dominance, leading to a kind of ‘balkanisation of the planet’. At the same time as national states are seen as something from the past, the International Olympic Committee has more and more members and flags. Only Europe has seen in ten years the emergence of a dozen new countries and more than 15,000 km of new borders (….) The more the states multiply, the more their recognised sovereignty is formal. Behind this ‘façade’ of sovereignty there are new puppet, beggar or vassal states, which owe their position to dominant powers (…) This dialectic of dissolution of the old empires destroyed from above by their own power and the awakening from below of frustrated national aspirations – the process of formation of new regional conglomerates and the fragmentation of existing territories – is not yet finished”
We can therefore understand that the aggressive imperialist policy developed by the Bush government, and especially by the ‘neo-conservative’ wing, was in response not to the ‘madness’ of members of his administration or merely the search for private business, but was an attempt to use the terrain on which USA is unchallenged – i.e. military force – to recover its lost hegemony. It can be considered a voluntaristic and facile policy, but it is one which in essence would be carried out by a Kerry administration, more than those who support the Democrat candidate as the ‘lesser evil’ to the Republican administration care to think.
The failure to recognise that capitalism develops in an ‘uneven and combined” way has led to one of the most nonsensical arguments of the globalisation theorist, that is, that the oppression by imperialist nations of oppressed nations is outdated. Under neo-liberalism we saw an unequal distribution of state power. The power of the imperialist countries over the subjugated nations has increased because of the control that the former exercise over the five monopolies on which the dominance of the world depends, which according to Samir Amin are: new technologies, control of financial movements, access to the natural resources of the planet, means of communication, and weapons of mass destruction. It is true that the tendency has not been homogeneous among the countries that do not belong to the G-7 ‘club’: today, in a period in which inter-imperialist disputes are increasing, we are witnessing the growing strength of a series of powers at a regional level, like Brazil, South Africa and India (and China with its own peculiarities). However, apart from attempts to resurrect senile semi-colonial bourgeoisies, imperialist domination remains unchallenged: between 1982 and 1998 countries of the periphery have paid in services for their external debts four times more than the original amount. Every year about 200 billion dollars are paid out by the so-called ‘third world’. How can they leave aside that this monumental ravaging lays new bases for anti-imperialist struggle? How can they consider that ‘globalisation’ has made oppression between nations disappear? Of course, this does not mean (who would dare say otherwise?) that in the interior of the very same imperialist heartlands of Europe and North America there are millions of poor and unemployed (mainly immigrants, ‘undocumented’ or ‘without papers’) who subsist on a very precarious level, and that there is an increase in social polarisation. But to use these facts to eliminate at one stroke the differences between oppressed and oppressor countries is plainly a false internationalist stand, in which the fight against the payment of the external debt is not important (even the Catholic church has taken the issue of the external debt as a way to win new followers and to show a ‘social’ face to compensate the extreme cultural conservatism of the papacy of John Paul II). We call it false internationalism because to be internationalist in an imperialist country starts from assuming that one’s own nation is an oppressor country and that the workers in imperialist countries are privileged relative to those in the oppressed countries. (Does not Lenin demonstrate the existence of a ‘workers’ aristocracy’ that provides the basis for the reformist policy of social democracy?)
It is not only economic domination that characterises imperialism at present, but also military interventionism, a fact that contradicts the arguments of the theoreticians of globalisation. Their theses do not explain the tendency of the dominant nations to revive imperialist and colonialist policies, under which their increased expansion and appropriation of resources are justified by the supposed existence of ‘rogue’ or ‘failure’ states, that according to their relationship with Washington are either friendly or part of the ‘axis of evil’. The fact is that imperialism remains such a relevant phenomenon that Perry Anderson correctly said during a recent conference in Havana that the tendency to exalt its powers is very obvious in politicians’ speeches and in the think tanks of the dominant powers:
“How is this new North American arrogance related to the ideological innovation of neoliberalism and military humanitarianism? In the form – unthinkable a few years ago – of full and naïve rehabilitation of imperialism, as a political regime of high values, modernising and civilised.It was Blair’s adviser on national security affairs, Robert Copper, a kind of mini-Kissinger of Downing Street, who initiated this contemporary rebranding of imperialism, giving as a heart-breaking example the NATO assault in Yugoslavia. After, the grandson of Lyndon Johnson, the constitutional jurist and the military strategist, Philip Bobbitt (coordinator of espionage services in Clinton’s National Security Council), in his lengthy volume ‘The Shield of Achilles’, foresaw the most radical and ambitious theory of the new North American hegemony. Today, huge numbers of articles, essays and books celebrating the American Empire – typically beautified by making long comparisons with the Roman Empire and its role as civiliser – are rolling off the presses of American printers.
“It should be highlighted that this neo-imperialist euphoria is not ephemeral excess by the North american right wing; there are both Democrats and Republicans among the ranks of its heroes. For each Robert Kagan or Max Boot on one side, there is a Philip Bobbitt or Michael Ignatieff on the other side. It would be a big mistake to have the illusion that these ideas only grew with Reagan or the Bushes, no, Carter and Clinton, with their Zbigniew Brzezinskis and Samuel Bergers at their sides, have played an equally fundamental role in its development.”
The crisis of ‘a movement of movements’
But the theses outlined in Empire suffered a rapid erosion not only due to the change of American foreign policy under the Bush administration (and especially since September 11) which marked a return to the ‘classic’ imperialist policy, but also by the limits showed by ‘a movement of movements’, as Negri identified the multitude. Contrary to his illusions, Genoa was not a starting point for a major offensive, but a point at which the ‘movement of movements’ reached its limits, at which it started a period of decline. It is true that it reinvented itself as an anti-war movement, but in spite of the impressive demonstrations it could not stop the occupation of Iraq and most of its followers went on to defend the ‘policy of the lesser evil’, acting as a base for the electoral strengthening of the social democracy in Spain and France and doing activism for Kerry’s electoral campaign in the States. At the same time, the Brazilian PT, promoter of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, got to the presidency in order to act as an ‘orthodox’ pupil of the IMF. Pablo Virno had to recognise the impotence of ‘a movement of movements’ in a recent interview: “The global movement, from Seattle onwards, it looks like a battery losing its power, it accumulates energy but it doesn’t how or where to use it. It is like being in front of a new technological devise, powerful and sophisticated, but ignoring directions for its use. The symbolic-mediatic dimension has been, at the same time, a set of appropriate occasions and limits. On the one hand, has guaranteed the accumulation of energy; on the other, has prevented, or defer to the infinite, its application. Every activist is conscious that the global movement has not managed to influence – I mean to influence like a corrosive acid – over the current capitalist accumulation. The movement has not put into motion ways of struggle which were able to transform into subversive political power the condition of the precarious, casual atypical work (…) where does the difficulty originate? Why the rate of profit and the functioning of the constituted powers have not been affected in a significant way after three years of disorder under the sky? (…) Those who mistake the ethics of the movement and that accuse it of leaving aside the class struggle against exploitation are wrong. But wrong as well are those who for opposed reasons are pleased because they consider that the movement leaves behind categories such as ‘exploitation’ and ‘class struggle’. In both cases they miss the point: the polemic link between the ‘good moment’ (embodied in Genoa and Porto Alegre) and a life dedicated to work (the axis of the post-Fordism enterprise)”.
On a less important level, the immediate results of the process opened in Argentina on 19th and 20th December 2001 were a blow against Empire. Can you get something closer to the multitude than the events that took place in that hot and agitated summer in Buenos Aires? What about its popular assemblies in the squares of Buenos Aires’ plazas? What about the movement towards unity that seemed to be shown by the confluence of ‘piquete’ and ‘cacerola’? (pickets and pots) How could one not see here, in spite of all the progressiveness shown in the revolutionary days, an example of the limits of the cult to the ‘spontaneity’ by the autonomist and the benefits that for the bourgeoisie meant the absence of important sectors of the industrial working class and service workers engaging with mass actions? How could one not make a connection between the rejection of thinking from a ‘class’ perspective and the conciliation with the state under the Kirchner government that was followed by the majority of the autonomists?
The strategic crisis of ‘a movement of movements’ is on two levels. One is related to the definition that the imperialist epoch has been superseded by the dominance of ‘global’ institutions and by the loss of influence and/ or disappearance of the national states, thus, any strategy related to the seizure of power is ruled out. The other is related to the understanding of how to articulate the diverse ‘resistant subjectivity’.
On the first point, the very same actions developed by the movement against the imperialist war in Iraq showed how an internationalist strategy only develops in combination with the confrontation in the ‘national’ arena of the government and states. With the division between the dominant imperialist powers, it was impossible to fight seriously against the war without attacking the national governments, since the national governments decided whether sending troops or not. The antiwar movement has, as a progressive aspect, the combination of a common internationalist action (e.g the demos on February, 15 and March, 15, 2003) while denouncing the ‘local’ governments. But, it didn’t manage to overcame the illusions that a solution could be come with the hand of a ‘lesser evil’, that is, the imperialist governments opposed to the way that the intervention lead by the United States was acquiring. Therefore, spite of massive demos, the antiwar movement was imbued with a pacifist illusion, with the enormous weakness of acting as ‘multitude’ and not with the methods of the working class, like general strike, the only methods that could stop the war machinery of the government and could overthrow them by direct action of the masses. We are witnessing a similar situation in Latin America. Popular demonstrations have legitimised their role by defeating privatisation plans, throwing out elected governments, as we saw in Ecuador, Peru, Argentina and Bolivia. It is true that in not all the cases the uprisings were transformed into open revolutions and that the bourgeoisie in various countries managed only to change the government. But, there are events that were unthinkable in the 90’s, when the region was an example of the privatisation plans promoted by the ‘Washington consensuses’. Would the globalisers say that the masses in Plaza Murillo and Plaza de Mayo (both in Buenos Aires) that obliged the government to flee were wrong?
As for the second aspect, we have to leave aside here as well, the vulgar interpretation of Marxism and its understanding of the political centrality of the working class. Autonomists follow post-modern theoreticians by signalling that this perspective is ‘reductionism’ and that it would deny the potential of actions by the ‘new social movements’. But the standpoint of this criticism is an amalgam, that is, transforming this centrality (that comes form the characterisation of our society as ‘capitalist mode of production’) as synonym of an ‘workerist’ or ‘economicist’ politics, forgetting that precisely one of the main issues of Marxist political theory was the articulation of the revolutionary social alliance in order to fight back dominant power; that is, the problem of how the working class could become hegemonic, a topic that was dealt at length by Russian Marxism and discussed by the III International before Stalinism.
For Trotsky, the centrality of the working class in a revolutionary social alliance was not a synonym for ‘workerism’. On the contrary, the ‘heretic’ possibility contained in the ‘first thesis of the Permanent Revolution’, that that the working class seize the power in a background country before than in a developed country depended on its capacity to conquest hegemony among the whole oppressed sectors, the peasantry by raising the common slogans of the oppressed nation, defending, for example, the right of the Afro-American population in America to have their own state if they wish so, or the right of the Ukrainian population to independence against the national oppression exercised by the ‘great Russian’, following on to Lenin’s view and polemic with Rosa Luxembourg. In the Soviet Union itself, it meant the struggle against Stalinism and the bureaucratisation of the workers’ state and among this, the struggle for women and youth’s issues and against the censorship of artistic and cultural production. This is very well exemplified in The Revolution Betrayed, Problems of Everyday Life and Literature and Revolution. Therefore, the arguments that the ‘new social movements’ will refute Marxism due to the fact that some demands are not subsumed on class vindications, only challenge those who hold a ‘trade-unionist’ or ‘workerist’ position – this is to choose an easy enemy – and no who support Trotsky’s developments. To highlight nowadays, the ‘centrality of the working class’ is not the result of any ‘essentialism’ but the result of a concrete analysis of historical development, that is, that the capitalist mode of production has generated a class whose place in the production is given a revolutionary potential that no other social has. It is not either the lack of recognition that issues like gender, ecology or national struggles have in the anti-capitalist struggle, but it is a ‘reactionary utopian’ to think that these issues can be resolved in a progressive way without putting an end to capitalist exploitation. Is not the dismissive attitude towards ecology and the difficulties to impose the use of natural resources the ‘miserable’ criteria of the law of value a crudest demonstration of capitalist irrationality? At turn, experience over the last years has showed that when this movement acts having as a perspective the alliance of the working class with the anticapitalist its demand can be absorbed and, therefore, it becomes legitimated. Capitalist economy is not a mere sum of parts. In the same way, a project for social emancipation cannot emerge out of the sum of different individual demands. If different problems address by the ‘new social movements’ do not articulate in a project for a global social transformation, the demands will be taken up by capitalists, transformed in a source of inspiration for new capitalist business. Is there other social class apart from the working class that could articulate the subaltern classes in this project of global social transformation, for which there is no better word than communism?
The changes in the working class and our strategic goal
However, is not the working class becoming virtually extinct? There is little doubt that, along with the trumpeted disappearance of the nation-state and the ’end of work’, the ’end of the working class’ is one of the greatest myths of our time. In previous issues of this magazine we took issue against such views. We pointed out that the working class was not being superseded, that we were just witnessing the emergence of a new working class, shaped by increased casualisation, women’s participation, with new regions and social layers being incorporated into it –a process combined with the creation of a ‘two-tier’ system of wage-earners. We also argued that the supposed ‘hegemony of immaterial work’ proclaimed by Toni Negri is a misnomer hinged upon a whole array of different processes, which just cannot be pigeonholed into his category of ‘general intellect’ –nor do they express the rule of ‘cognitive capitalism’.
Actually, the views on the ‘end of work’ just conceal the fact that increasing flexibility in the workplace does not mean that capital has done away with waged labour altogether. Instead, it has combined ‘flexible’ labour –by taking on the gains achieved by labour in the twentieth century- with a drive to ‘intellectual work’ in some layers of the labour force. Hence, those advocating the ‘end of work’ seize upon the fact that most of the jobs created are ‘flexible’ and ‘casual’ and jump to a (fallacious) conclusion that ‘work is over’.
In turn, such drive to casual labour has gone hand in hand with chronic unemployment worldwide. A recent survey conducted by the International Labour Organization gives a telling picture in this regard:
‘Job creation did not improve in 2003 worldwide, in spite of the fact the economic growth made a comeback after a two-year long downturn (chart 1). Total unemployment increased slightly, in spite of a 3.2% growth of GDP and a modest increase in trade after a rather weak year 2002 (3% in 2003, compared to 2.5% in 2002 (WTO, 2003).
According to ILO, there were 185.9 million jobless looking for a job in 2003, which shows a slight increase, compared to estimates of 185.4 million unemployed (chart 1 and World Tendencies in Jobs, 2003) and is the highest figure known so far. The biggest increase has been among the youth, with the rate of youth unemployment standing at 14.4%, which means twice as much as the 6.2% rate for unemployment worldwide. Although the number of unemployed women has slightly decreased worldwide in 2002-2003, women are among those with the highest rates of unemployment.
Table 3 - Unemployment in the world, 1993, 1998 and 2002-2003
Source: ILO, model on Tendencies in Job Creation Worldwide 2003
On a par with a worsened situation of employment worldwide, the informal economy has also grown in those developing regions with low levels of GDP growth. Those workers in the informal section of the economy run the risk of becoming poor workers with a wage that is not enough to meet the worker’s own needs or those of his family (a dollar o less a day), above all in those economies lacking universal welfare benefit or other forms of welfare. The ILO estimates that by late 2003, the number of poor workers living on a dollar or less a day was around 550 million, namely, the same as in 2002. If the stagnation lingers on, the UN’s Development Goals for the Millennium, i.e. reducing world poverty by a half from now to 2015, will not be achieved.’
However, mass unemployment should not deceive us into believing that waged labour has ceased to exist altogether. Quite otherwise, the fact remains that chronically high levels of unemployment coexist with a steady growth of wage-earners worldwide. If we compare the amount of population at work in 1980-82 with the average of the years 2000-02, the data conclusively show that work is far from having been wiped out. Let us look at a set of 28 countries, fourteen of which rank among ‘highly industrialised’ with the other fourteen being regarded as ‘developing countries’:
Even if we contrast the growth of the population and the growth of jobs, we shall see that jobs have grown in most countries too. The data taken from the sources mentioned above show that, in those countries regarded as ‘highly industrialised’, just two of them (Sweden and Finland) show negative percentages. And the same happens with those ‘developing countries’ included in the survey: just two of them –Pakistan and Argentina- display negative figures. Although it is true that these figures do not reveal the nature of the jobs created -which are casual for their most part- and provide just partial data -because there are countries where the labour force has been reduced indeed-, it is also true that if waged labour was no longer a structural tendency within modern capitalism, this would show through in the advanced economies of the world. But the opposite is true.
Chris Harman, for his part, has estimated the size of the working class worldwide to be around 700 million people, with roughly a third of them in industry and the rest in services. He also points out that ’But the total size of the working class is considerably greater than this. The class also includes those who are dependent on income that comes from the waged labour of relatives or savings and pensions resulting from past wage labour, that is, non-employed spouses, children and retired elderly people. If these categories are added in, the worldwide figure for the working class comes between 1.5 and 2 billion. Anyone who believes we said ‘farewell’ to this class is not living in the real world”. If we bear in mind that the Russian proletariat was made up of 10 million people out of a population of 150 million, and contrast that with the figures provided in the article, we can see that the talk about ’the working class having lost the social weight it had at the time of Marx’ is sheer nonsense.
To dispel the myth proclaiming the disappearance of waged labour within contemporary capitalism is, nevertheless, just a first step. It follows from here that Marxism’s claim on the central role of the working class for the fight against capitalism remains a central tenet today. To recognize its existence as a ’class in itself’ not only points to its potential to challenge capitalist power, but also highlights that its power to do so has increased enormously.
However, the huge social prowess in the hands of the working class has not spread its wings yet, because labour does not recognize itself as a distinct class, nor does it act as a ’class for itself’. This is no objective or mechanical process, being shaped by the experiences of workers in their struggle against capitalist exploitation, both on the economic and political terrains.
By and large, the advocates of the ’end of work’ present their views as opposed to what is ultimately a simplistic view of a Marxist approach to the working class. It seems as if the latter had been regarded as a homogeneous and seamless totality, one whose political expression would mechanistically reflect their status in the productive process. But let us look into Trotsky’s approach to this question, in an article written in the mid-20s, titled: ‘Not by politics alone’:
The proletariat is a powerful social unity which manifests its strength fully during the periods of intense revolutionary struggle for the aims of the whole class. But within this unity we observe a feat variety of types. Between the obtuse illiterate village shepherd and the highly qualify engine-driver there lie a great many different states of culture and habits of life. Every class, moreover, every trade, every group consists of people of different ages, different temperaments, and with a different past. But for this variety, the work of the Communist Party might have been easy. The example of Western Europe shows, however, how difficult this work is in reality. One may say that the richer the history of a country, and at the same time of its working class, the greater within it the accumulation of memories, traditions, habits, the larger the number of old groupings – the harder it is to achieve a revolutionary unity of the working class. The Russian proletariat is poor in class history and class traditions. This has undoubtedly facilitated its revolutionary education leading up to October. On the other hand, it causes difficulty in constructive work after October. The Russian worker – except the very top of the class – usually lacks the most elementary habits and notions of culture (in regard to tidiness, instruction, punctuality, etc.) The Western European worker possesses these habits. He has acquired them by a long and slow process, under the bourgeois regime. This explains why in Eastern Europe the working class – its superior elements, at any rate – is so strongly attached to the bourgeois regime with its democracy, freedom of the capitalist press, and all the other blessings. The belated bourgeois regime in Russia had no time to do any good to the working class, and the Russian proletariat broke from the bourgeoisie all the more easily, and overthrew the bourgeois regime without regret. But for the very same reason the Russian proletariat is only just beginning to acquire and to accumulate the simplest habit of culture, doing it already in the conditions of a socialist workers’ state. History gives nothing free of cost. Having made a reduction on one point – in politics – it makes us to pay the more on another – in culture. The more easily (comparatively, of course) did the Russian proletariat pass through the revolutionary crisis, the harder becomes now its socialist constructive work.” (p. 19-20)
The dialectical relationship hammered out by Trotsky here helps us understand some contradictions posed by the changed position of the working class in the last few years, cut across by tendencies to atomisation on one hand, and increased homogeneity, on the other. The enhanced social weight of wage-earners has gone hand in hand with growing reformist illusions and values, more akin to those of the petty bourgeoisie which has been recently ‘proletarised’ under the iron heel of the capitalist onslaught. The working class worldwide tends to be more and illustrated and politically well-learned, but due to its different experiences, history and culture, achieving revolutionary unity is no hassle-free undertaking -those problems that Trotsky branded as proper of ’the West’, i.e., the most advanced capitalist societies. In turn, this is compounded by the lower and poorer living standards for millions of people elsewhere. Some sections of the proletariat that yesterday were hegemonic have sunk into marginalisation, whereas previously non-existent social layers join the struggle. Once again, the objective process will not do the trick for ourselves.
By the same token, we have also tried to account for the changed ’subjectivity’ of the proletariat. Under the Yalta Order, we were confronted with a paradoxical situation: proletarian subjectivity was wide in its scope and reach, but it was contained by powerful reformist bureaucracies, which continuously eroded the revolutionary traditions of the working class. If the workers were able to gain -after World War II- massive conquests that ranged from the expropriation of the bourgeoisie in two thirds of the globe up to mass unions and improved living standards, they paid a high price for this. They gave Stalinist and Social Democratic leaderships a new lease of life. The revolutionary developments in the 1970s challenged the reformists’ hegemony -with wide layers of the working class and the youth becoming increasingly radical. But these processes were either derailed or crushed thanks to the cooperation of the Socialist and Communist Parties to bourgeois regimes, with bourgeois and petty bourgeois nationalist playing their part in the semi colonial world. In the early 1980s, imperialism was able to regain strength and launch a backlash on the working class, which retreated amid the complicity and/or capitulation of reformist leaders. On top of that, those currents claiming allegiance to revolutionary Marxism failed to mount a serious challenge. Major conquests were thus set in reverse, and soon the idea that all revolutionary undertakings would inevitably lead to defeat caught in.
That is why the demise of the Stalinist bureaucracy -and the weakening and/or incorporation of the union bureaucracy- did not mechanically result in a revolutionary rejuvenation on the left, leading instead to a very slow and winding revival.
At the turn of the century, times seem to be changing. Although the ’altermundist’ movement turned out to be helpless to stop imperialist war in its tracks -due mainly to its class composition and the strategy pursued by it- it has nevertheless played a significant role, from Seattle onwards, when it comes to eroding the legitimacy of the established order and setting the scene for a come back of labour. After the defeats and the neo-liberal backlash, we have recently seen some symptoms pointing to a revival of the best class traditions, after a first awakening in the mid 1990s. Back then, the 25-day-long general strike by French public workers rocked the country during November-December 1995, introducing a new form of action, called by Negri the ’urban strike’, sparking off a left turn of the intelligentsia as well.
More recently, we have seen the miners and the Bolivian Trade Union Federation (COB) play a key role in the demonstrations and protests that brought down Sánchez de Losada’s government in October 2003, achieving a central role for the first time since their defeat in 1985. Such actions have meant a continuation of factory occupation and subsequent management by Argentine workers in plants like that of Zanón and Brukman (which have had international repercussions, with Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein’s The Takeover being a testimony of that). They are also in tune with major strikes by sections of the European proletariat, such the British postal workers, or transport workers in Italy, who have taken up the method of ’wild strikes’, surpassing their union leaders and going on to wage successful struggles. We should also take into account the fights waged by the employees of the French electricity carriers -EDF and GDF-, who staged ’Robin Hood-styled’ actions cutting off the power in rich neighbourhoods and the landmarks of capitalist power while connecting power that had been cut off by the company. These are minor actions yet, but they show the potential of workers when they decide to take determined action.
We have already said that the working class, due to its position within capitalist production as well as its revolutionary tradition, is the only class endowed with a potential to give the lead to all of the oppressed against the power of the capitalists. No social group or layer has so far been able to conquer what the workers were able to achieve in their 150 years of history. If the latter regains confidence in its own forces, it may go for even greater achievements, since its social leverage is stronger than the one it had in Marx’s times.
But becoming a ’hegemonic class’ once again requires that the working class espouses a new program and a new ideology. And this is not going to come about by dropping a 150-year-long record and starting from scratch, like Negri et al want us to believe. There are still conquests to be defended, and an enormous revolutionary experience has been accumulated, which only a foolhardy person might want to throw overboard. And it is here where the fight for the Fourth International comes in.
An unlikely return to Keynes and Roosevelt
We have taken issue with the claims made by the advocates of ’globalisation’, building upon Trotsky’s insights in order to develop some key aspects of the new strategic framework that has emerged in the last few years. It has become common sense to proclaim that a come back of state intervention is something impossible, while another strand of thinkers worry about the potential consequences of the demise of the ’Keynesian compromise’ for the ruling order. Richard Rorty, for instance, has pointed out that ’western democracies have created welfare systems, with the aim of limiting the consequences of economic development. The problem today is that there is no global equivalent of a national government to look after the welfare of mankind as a whole. It would have been better if the globalisation of the economy had been carried out shortly after the creation of a global Welfare State, i.e., a supranational government which would somehow guarantee some level of justice among nations, and within each of them, between the rich and the poor (...) if the society of capital continues to consider the planet as a mere labour market, sooner or later the working class within the oldest democracies will be left with such low wages that these will dramatically cut into their living standards. Therefore, if no alternative policies are enforced, we run the risk of unleashing a social revolution that would put the oldest democracies in jeopardy’.
Those who think like that do not understand the dynamics of capitalism any better than those thinkers we have taken issue with before. On one hand, they just ’ignore’ that the welfare state was a privilege only the most powerful nations on Earth could afford on the basis of the imperialist submission of the semi-colonial world. Rorty’s challenge to neo-liberalism relies on a proposed re-run of old-seasoned reformism -one which overlooks the imperialist nature of ’western democracies’. Hence he combines his aspirations for a ’welfare state’ worldwide with a call urging America’s ’cultural left’ to cast aside all those debates concerning the ’global agenda’ and mount a challenge of the populist right around the sense of ’nationhood’: ’The cultural left seems to convinced that the nation-state is something obsolete and that, therefore, a rejuvenation of national politics is off the agenda. The problem with such view is that in a foreseeable future, the government in our nation will be the only agency really empowered to genuinely alter the degree of sadism and selfishness inflicted upon Americans (...) The current habit within the left -that of adopting a far-fetched perspective and look towards global politics regardless of nationhood- is as helpless as the form it has superseded (...) When we look at things from a different angle, it dawns on us that the cultural left should undergo an essential transformation, i.e., get rid of that semi-conscious antinationalism that has lingered on since the 60s. It is high time that that strand of the left stopped devising even more abusive and abstract concepts to brand the ’system’ and undertook a creation of more inspiring images of their country. Just by doing that, it will be able to weave alliances with the people outside the academic world, especially with the unions. Outside the academic world, the Americans are still patriotic. They still want to feel themselves part of a nation that takes control of its destiny, thus becoming a better place’.
As we can see, Rorty demands the ’cultural left’ to put pressure on the Democrats so that they take up, at least partly, the distributionist rhetoric with which Roosevelt gained support among labour -a ruse that was instrumental to further the imperialist expansion of the United States abroad. However, the main thrust of it is to spark a dispute on the values of the nation, what makes Rorty’s appeal a very regressive one, not only because it beautifies those policies that favoured the imperialist expansion of America, but also because it might serve as a platform for protectionist policies that impinge upon oppressed nations. Let us not forget the defence of labour interest has been invoked on hot issues such as the farming subsidies in the USA and the European Union, or else the demands of American unions against trade links with China. Raising a nationalistic agenda in the imperialist countries can only lead labour to side with the interests of their ’own’ local corporations against those from abroad, or just provide a social basis for a dispute between rival strands of capitalists with distinct interests. Without challenging the power of the capitalists exerting a ’global power’ at home, or cutting into their interests, we are inevitably left with a policy that will play the workers in ruling countries against those in poor ones. It is only by raising a coherently internationalist perspective that we can prevent labour from falling prey of right-wing populist demagogy. And this entails, in turn, stern opposition and defeatism in the face of all imperialist interventions abroad by one’s own state, which goes hand in hand with unconditional advocacy of citizenship for all immigrant workers. Marx’s call addressed to British workers to go for support of the Irish struggle for independence remains fully valid today -’no class lending support to the oppression of another people will be ever really free’.
Furthermore, the decline of the ’welfare state’ is no accidental phenomenon -it just reflects the inability on the part of imperialist nations to stand by the ’Keynesian compromise’, to which the bourgeoisie in the West resorted to as a bulwark in the face of the USSR’s strengthened position. Profiting from their privileged position of ruling nations, they furthered a kind of ’extensive’ accumulation of capital boosted by the post-war reconstruction. In its own way, the welfare state, insofar as it relied on state intervention on the economy and brought in universal healthcare, education and state-owned enterprises, entailed -to a certain extent- a homage paid by capitalism to socialism, as Lenin said referring to the post (and monopolies in general). But it also showed the inability of capitalism to carry its tendencies to the very end. During the golden years of the boom, even the virtues of state planning were extolled. However, those resources were instrumental in upholding, not challenging, the power of big capitalist monopolies. When critical limits were reached and a changed balance of forces emerged, all things were turned upside down, and the virtues of the market were extolled against the ’inefficient state bureaucracies’. This reversion gave the lie to those theories that had anticipated a ’bureaucratisation of the world’ as a result of a supposed tendency to rationalisation enshrined within the ’dialectics of Enlightenment’. They did not see that the capitalist backlash would proceed on completely different lines, pushing for an overall ’commodity-like’ process of social relationships.
The ’fiscal crisis’ of the various states, which fuelled a heated debate in the late 1970s, was a symptom that the relative equilibrium achieved during the post-war could no longer remain in place. Once the revolutionary ’dress rehearsal’ of the early 70s had failed to break it ’from the left’, the ’neoliberal’ offensive was unleashed, pursuing to buttress the fall in the rate of profit by bringing an intensified exploitation of labour in semicolonial countries on one hand, and by taking on those concessions that capital had been forced to give to labour in the advanced countries, on the other. In the light of these developments, it is clear the utopian nature of the claims made by those who deem that capitalist monopolies will willingly give back what they have taken away from labour so far. It is no trifle that one of the ’secrets’ that enhanced the position of US capital vis-à-vis its Japanese and European rivals was the increased flexibilization of its labour force throughout the 80s, which entailed a bigger loss of conquests too. If no further inroads were made in this direction, this is because of the US predominant position due to the prevalence of the dollar in financial markets, which has allowed America to borrow heavily, well beyond Latin America, but without having to face the consequences that this entails for our nations.
To succeed in defending the ’welfare state’ and its benefits, such as free access to education and healthcare, the pension system or the limits imposed on capitalists’ despotism in the workplace -codified in several ’laws’ and ’collective bargaining regulations’- labour has to go beyond the perspective of a ’rejuvenated Keynesian compromise’. They have to espouse a strategy to inaugurate the only form of state that can ’deliver the goods’ -i.e., one in which the bourgeoisie has been overthrown and the working class takes control of power, ushering the transition to a classless society. This is the only possible and realistic perspective -no matter what our critics might say-, at least is more sensible than that advocated by the champions of globalisation or the widows of Lord Keynes.
A place under the sun of the ’new order’
The Latin American variety of the strand of thought mentioned above is that advocated by developmental or neo-developmental thinkers, who have always gathered around the CEPAL. After the implementation of the agenda dictated by the ’Washington consensus’, which wreaked havoc on Latin America, the ’neo-developmental’ ideas have won, once again, some of their lost lustre. Let us focus on the emblematic 80-year-old Helio Jaguaribe, a Brazilian sociologist and political scientist who was the architect of the ’developmental’ agenda implemented by Juscelino Kubitschev in Brazil between 1956 and 1961. Jaguaribe has been insisting on the idea that a strategic alliance between Argentina and Brazil should be built, as a first step leading the Mercosur first, and South American later on, to become a relatively autonomous pole within the international system of states. According to Mr. Jaguaribe, we are witnessing today a situation of US ’uni-multipolarity’ (a concept he has borrowed from the conservative political scientist Samuel Huntington). This means that although the US’s power remains unchallenged in some key respects, several domestic and international reasons prevent it from behaving like an full-blown Empire, such as Rome did in the ancient world or else Great Britain back in the 19th century. In his view, since the demise of the Soviet Union the world system has gone through a transitional period in which two conflictive tendencies coexist, with two alternative scenarios flowing from this: a Pax Americana, or else a multipolar system, with the European Union, Japan, China, Russia, Iran, India and eventually South America as viable candidates that might make up -along with the US- a ’political boardroom’ of the world.
Mr. Jaguaribe argues that after what he calls ’the third wave of globalisation of capitalism’, there has been a massively increased inequality worldwide: ’The brilliant Chilean economist, Osvaldo Sunkel pointed out that the globalisations, instead of what the advocates of neo-liberalism claim, have massively widened unevenness. India and China, Sunkel proves, suffered with the first globalisation, and the relationship between Europe and Asia, which was 1 to 1, became a 2 to 1 disparity in favour of the Europeans. After that, the Industrial Revolution altered the relationships between the developed and the undeveloped worlds, with a ensuing 10 to 1 disparity. Now, if you measure per capita income in rich and poor countries, the gap stands at 60 to 1. It flows from here that it is a lie that globalisation is good for everyone, because it has been dreadful for some people’. Thus, ‘today, with a globalisation seriously compounded by America’s unilateralist position, the world is being torn apart in four different tiers: 1. Supreme tier. Absolute, or almost absolute, US supremacy. 2. The tier of high self-determination. In it, we find the European Union and Japan. 3. A level that I would call a tier of resistance. In it, we find China, Russia and India, which are able to limit the interference of globalisation in their territories. In other words, there is self-determination at home and a very limited self-determination abroad. 4. The tier of dependence. The rest of the countries’.
Those countries included by Jaguaribe in the fourth tier are no other thing than geographical platforms for the exploitation of multinational corporations. Brazil would be in-between the third and the fourth tier. Its ability to ‘leap’ forward in the spectrum of nations is precisely hinged upon reaching strategic agreement with Argentina: ‘Given the present levels of globalisation and unilateralist, neither Argentina nor Brazil are in a position to separately resist incorporation into America’s imperial system. If such strategic alliance were to consolidate –beyond the level of rhetoric- first on the level of the Mercosur and on a Latin American level later on,with a view to becoming an economic, technological and cultural power –not a military one-, we might thus be able to rise from the level of dependence to the tier of resistance’.
Hence his opposition to the FTAA-Free Trade Area of the Americas-, although Mr. Jaguaribe has recently gone on the record stating to say that FTAA membership could be convenient if some conditions are negotiated first. He stated: ‘For countries such as Argentina and Brazil, the FTAA would represent a catastrophic reversion to the position that they had back in the 1930s, that of producers of raw materials and non manufactured farming goods, and importers of high-tech goods and services (...) Both Argentina and Brazil, at the turn of the century, do not have any historical alternative other than that of consolidating and expanding the Mercosur, pursuing a South American System of Economic and Political Cooperation by means of reaching agreement with those countries in the Andean Pact’.
However, all of Jaguaribe’s calls to ‘Latin American integration’ boil down to giving the Brazilian bourgeoisie room to beg a place among the ruling nations, as part of a future ‘world boardroom’. For the sake of such mean goal, he tampers with the idea of economic and political integration of our subcontinent, placing his hopes in the local bourgeoisies –no matter their actions are a far cry from that pursuit. The local elites already failed miserably within far more favourable contexts –i.e, the 1930s and the 1960s. Back then, the world crisis and acrimony between rival powers were a fertile soil for the emergence of the so-called ‘Latin American populism’, through which some sections of the local bourgeoisie sought reliance on the mass of workers and peasants to stand up to imperialist pressure and wrestle more favourable conditions. But all those movements with an anti-imperialist flair –which made some concessions to the masses in order to win their support- ended up recycling themselves as champions of privatisation and neo-liberalism. This applies to the Argentine Peronist Party led by Menem, Bolivia’s Nationalist Revolutionary Movement under Sánchez de Losada, the Mexican PRI led by Salinas de Gortari and Zedillo, or the Brazilian elite that rallied around Fernando Henrique Cardoso –an administration that was prone to sell out all Brazilian assets, in which Jaguaribe himself served as minister. The cycle of bourgeois nationalismfailed to bring about the much-vaunted ‘economic sovereignty’, leaving behind a deeper submission of all the economies in our region to multinational corporations. In Brazil’s case, Jaguaribe himself points out that 47% of the top 500 enterprises are controlled by imperialist capitals. And this has just been compounded by the cumbersome weight of the external debt, on top of which comes the control of imperialist corporations on key strategic resources, like oil and the privatised utilities in Argentina. To say that backwardness and dependence can be overcome without challenging the positions conquered by imperialist capital and its local agencies in the last few decades is just a pipedream. To believe that one can make a dent into those interests in a ‘peaceful fashion’, without coming up against any resistance, is a very naive claim. Jaguaribe seems to have learnt nothing from the 20th century: his proposals to snap Brazil out of its crisis boil down to demanding a cut in interest rates and the issuing of a bond to fund a scheme of public works, thus forcing the ruling elite to go for ‘domestic saving’...This is just a sham, especially in a country with 53 million people living in poverty –some 34% of the population-, of which 22 million -14% of the total- are close to starvation. The PNUD has ranked Brazil third only to South Africa and Malawi in its survey of 92 countries concerning social inequality.
A very prominent disciple of Mr. Jaguaribe, Luis Bresser Pereira, has just written that Jaguaribe has been ‘excessively optimistic’ in his approach to every phase Brazil has gone through. However, this is not a matter of individual psychology, having to do instead with placing expectations – which are frustrated, over and over again- in the political representatives of a class that has been totally helpless to break Latin America free from the chains of backwardness and dependence.
How about Chávez? He is on the left of the spectrum vis-à-vis Jaguaribe. The skyrocketing increase of oil –almost 50 dollars a barrel- has boosted his ‘Bolivarian’ project, with a rhetoric that resembles that of the first Peronist governments, but with much closer trade links with the US and no reliance on the working class movement, with a social basis among the armed forces and the urban poor relying on state relief. It is a quite mild version of what Trotsky called a sui generis variant of left-leaning Bonapartism. The truth, however, is that after his four years of government, for all the pro-Chávez frenzy sparked off by his victory in the recent referendum, the social transformations in Venezuela have been far more meagre than those achieved by Perón in Argentina or else Cárdenas in Mexico. However, the mass movement is not to blame for this situation, since it has stood by Chávez through all the attacks he has suffered from the oligarchy. After a mass mobilisation defeated the aborted 2002 coup and the bosses’ lock-out with street protests, and after Chávez own victory in the referendum, imperialism seems to be pursuing stability for his administration, while Chávez has made friendly overtures to the local and foreign bosses. No matter that his government, unlike the rest of administrations across the region, has some ‘anti-imperialist’ traits, he has duly paid Venezuela’s onerous external debt, which stands at 40% of its GDP. Moreover, his rhetoric on the ‘unity of Latin America’ hardly goes farther the prospect of building a common commercial bloc to improve the lot of native capitalists, in tune with Kirchner, the Argentine president, and Lula, Brazil’s premier. As in the rest of the continent, it is up to the Venezuelan working class to move forward towards political independence, giving the lead to the struggle against imperialism and thus finishing off backwardness and economic dependence altogether.
Shortly before his assassination at the hands of one of Stalin’s henchmen, Trotsky recalled the strategic perspective developed by the recently-created Fourth International for Latin America: ‘Both South and Central America will only break free from backwardness and slavery by making all its constituent states come together into a single powerful federation. But it is not up to the backward South American bourgeoisie, that agency of foreign imperialism, to achieve this goal, but the still young South American proletariat, which will give the lead to the oppressed masses. The slogan presiding over the fight against the violence and intrigue fostered by world imperialism on one hand, and against the bloody exploitation of comprador local cliques, on the other, will thus be: for the Socialist United States of Central and South America’ More than half a century later, this perspective retains its full validity. The thing is that our proletariat is no longer young, but has accumulated a great political experience in the heat of struggle. It is now recovering from defeat, like the Bolivian miners, who staged the 1952 revolution, set up the Asamblea Popular in 1971 and launched an abortive occupation of La Paz back in 1985.
Latin America today has a lot more of urban population than in Trotsky’s time. On top of that, the peasants have shown their revolutionary potential, with the hunger for land combining with demands for rights and cultural autonomy of the aboriginal peoples. These are the social layers that the working class should give hegemonic lead to, building a revolutionary alliance to reverse the long decline of the region.
There is hope for the millions of Latin American workers, on condition that they do not trust their local exploiters to deliver the goods for them -no matter what Jaguaribe et al claim. The Argentine Trotskyist Liborio Justo was in the right when he stated: ’Those who believe that Latin American liberation and integration is, above all, hinged upon the understanding and coming together of Brazil and Argentina are totally right...because the two countries are bound, through the force of their proletariat, to be the vanguard in the struggle for socialism in the our continent’. Labour in our countries must conquer political independence so that this perspective can be materialized, and then go on to lead all the oppressed in the fight against imperialist rule. Just as -in Engels’ words- the working class was the heir of the legacy of classical German philosophy, our Latin American working class is the heir of the aspirations for the unification of our subcontinent hammered out by the leaders of independence two centuries ago.
The organic advocates of ’big business Europe’
Let us finish the analysis of the prevailing strands within the intelligentsia today, by focusing now on those standing for a ’third way’ in between the two tendencies above mentioned. A whole array of European intellectuals have portrayed the European Union as a prototype of the tendency towards the creation of ’post-national states’. Such view has been advocated by a thinker of ’risky society’, Ulrich Beck, who has recently argued for the creation of a ’military euro’. Similar views were advanced by the signatories of public statement released during the war in Iraq, Europe: in defence of a common foreign policy. Among them, we find Jürgen Habermas -who claims ’modernity is an unfinished project’- and Jacques Derrida -the most prominent figure of deconstruction and post-structuralism.
Faced with the stand off between imperialist powers triggered by the war, the imperialist project of the European Union was portrayed, by its ’organic intellectuals’, as the only bulwark against America’s ’unilateralist’ standing, a position flowing from the different values supposedly underpinning the projected single European state. Its own record of having been ravaged by two world wars waged mainly in its own land would qualify the main European powers to become the agency of a new kind of international power, opposed to that incarnated in Bush’s agenda. Thus, the statement claims: ’Every European nation has gone through a golden epoch of imperial power and, what is important in our context, has also had to assimilate the experience of a lost empire. Such experience of decline goes in many cases hand in hand with the loss of a colonial empire. As the distance separating imperial power from colonial history increases, the European powers have been given a chance of achieving a reflexive distance with regards to themselves. Thus, they could learn to understand themselves in the dubious role of victors from the perspective of the vanquished, since they were made responsible, as winners, for the violence of an imposed modernity leading to alienation. It might be this that has nourished the abandonment of Euro centrism, giving fresh impetus to the Kantian hope of a world domestic policy.’
That ’hope’ was hammered by the great German philosopher back in 1874, in his book Idea of a Universal History in the Cosmopolitan Sense, in which he anticipated the advent of ’perfect unification of the human species through a common citizenship’. That, according to Kant, would be the ’supreme goal of Nature’: since the planet we inhabit is a sphere, it is impossible to augment one’s own distance without ultimately cancelling it; the surface of our planet does not make room for ’infinite dispersion’; at the end of the day we should all learn to be good neighbours, and this quite simply because there is no other place to go. The surface of the Earth is our common property, and none of us has more ’right’ to occupy it than any other member of the human species. Hence, in the end, right when the limits of dispersion have been reached, there would be no other options left than living together and help each other in a reciprocal fashion.
However, the centuries that followed proved that the bourgeoisie, far from breaking mankind free from the scourge of war and leading it down the path of ’progress’ dreamed by the philosophers of Enlightenment, ushered in a social order in which impressive scientific and technological break-through went hand in hand with horror. Indeed, the horrors brought about by capitalism were unprecedented -Verdún and Auschwitz, Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the carnages perpetrated by imperialist powers in their colonies, from India to Algeria and Vietnam. The 20th century -the era of imperialism- was particularly dreadful in this regard. Does the creation of the European Union anticipate a new future? Is Europe a viable alternative to the United States nakedly imperialist policy? The facts belie such hopes. In the first place, the EU has been forged by the needs dictated by inter-imperialist competence. It was to stand up to US competition that France and Germany cast aside their rivalry and became a ’hard core’ of the EU, in a drive still full of contradictions. They have made significant progress, with the launch of the single currency and the creation of European Central Bank as key milestones, on top of which have come the expansion towards Eastern and Central Europe. But for all these unprecedented achievements, the EU is not a ’post national’ state as such yet. Instead, it is a supra-state agreement fundamentally operating as a ’common market’, with which European capitalists seek to overcome the contradiction between the ’economy and the nation’, which Trotsky deemed as the basic tendency of capitalism in the imperialist epoch.
However, the war in Iraq and the subsequent division of ’old’ versus ’new Europe’ revealed the EU’s intrinsic inability to reach what Derrida and Habermas demanded: a common foreign policy or the transformation of national armies into a single European force of defence with a unified high command, the ’military euro’ advocated by Beck. The truth is that even if such perspective were to come true, there would be no reason for celebration. It would be a reflection of heightened inter-imperialist rivalries, not a step towards achieving a ’multipolar’ world government in tune with Kant’s hope, as the advocates of capitalist Europe would have us believe. To try and stop a strand of imperialist militarism by building another can only lead to gruesome catastrophes, as it happened in the 20th century.
Moreover, these thinkers conceal the fact that the criteria codified in the treaties underpinning the EU are in tune with the ’neoliberal’ offensive. The blueprint for the European Constitution clearly states that: ’The Union member states should act in tune with the principle of an open market economy of free competition’. In the last few years, the standards set by the Maastricht Treaty and Stability and Employment Pact dictate the public deficit cannot exceed 3% of the GDP. Such cap was used as a rationale by all governments to push ahead with privatisation and wholesome ’flexibility in the workplace’, revealing the deep anti-working class thrust of the EU project.
The future of the EU as an alternative imperialist power is still uncertain, with two rival strands within it: an ’Atlantist’ strand standing for a subordinate role within a continued alliance with the US -in line with the Cold War set-up- and another one that we might call ’Europeanised’, pushing for a more autonomous imperialist agenda. Great Britain is the clearest advocate of the first sector, with France and Germany championing the second one, but all of them are cut across by a paramount question: how to position themselves with regards to the still unrivalled superpower of the world.
Giving support to the EU as it is today means lending support to ’big business Europe’, so that the advocacy of supposedly ’democratic values’ can only be the result of incurable naivety or else brazen cynicism. Right now, European troops are deployed in Afghanistan along with the ’unilateral’ Americans. Right now, ’democratic’ France is side by side with the US in Haiti, and has also troops deployed throughout Africa.
’The Socialist United States of Europe’: this is the strategic perspective to fight for and meet the aspirations of merging all the European states into a single European state, against those defending the interests of big corporations on one hand, and those opposing the drive to unification on the basis of a reactionary defence of sovereignty of their own imperialist fatherland, on the other. The working class must give the lead to fight for such perspective at the onset of the new century. It is the only class that can make good of the living thrust of Kant’s hope, leaving behind the phase of war between the nations, a task that is closely intertwined to bringing in a wholesome socialisation of the means of production, smashing imperialism altogether.
Revolutionary Marxism in the 21st century
Let us look back at Trotsky. This lengthy article argues that capitalism has been unable to carry any of its tendencies to the end, proceeding along the lines of uneven and combined development instead. Therefore, we point out that all the various strands of thinkers who overlook this basic trait are unable to come up with an accurate appraisal on the present position of mankind -let alone hammer out a way out for its current conundrum. We have also taken issue with several distinct claims made by different social scientists, trying to hammer out a new strategic framework for the present epoch.
In our view, the present validity of Trotsky’s insights, which he developed by analysing the dynamics of modern capitalism, reassures us to the effect that both the theory of permanent revolution and the transitional programme remain also valid today. Although the concrete magnitudes have been altered since the time they were originally forged -with the emergence of developments that were just in their embryonic form at that time- the underlying algebra holds water in its essential aspects.
The drive to increased internationalisation of capital in the last few years does not necessarily mean that any strategy for ’transcending capital’ can easily dispose of the revolutionary overthrow of bourgeois state power, striving to replace it with a state relying on the arming of the people and workers councils. A state presiding over a direct democracy of labour, with a planned economy and imposing its will on the minority of exploiters, which also defends itself from the inevitable aggression coming from abroad. In a nutshell, a state which ushers in the dictatorship of the proletariat, as we explain in the other article included in this dossier. The working class has seen its social leverage increase during the neoliberal period, while being atomised and put on the defensive at one and the same time. This means that it will not be able to articulate a new hegemony unless it achieves its own unification and upholds the democratic demands of the oppressed in semicolonial countries in a bold fashion. Furthermore, it has to raise an alternative to the various forms of oppression and those ’crises of civilisation’ (like the environmental one) nourished by the rule of capitalism.
Far from considering that the seizure of power works out ’ninety per cent of the problem’ (like Stalin used to say), we claim that the socialist revolutions of the 21st century will also be confronted with a transitional period in which revolution should spread on the international arena -which for Trotsky is the permanent nature of socialist revolution ’as such’. This process entails ’a period of indefinite duration and of constant internal fight, in which all social relationships are changed (...) The revolutions in the economy, in technique, in science, in the family, in customs, unfold in a complex reciprocal interaction that prevents society from reaching a point of equilibrium’.
Just as in the last century, this process will inevitable be shaped by the advance of revolution worldwide and also the nature of the society in which that revolution takes place, by the combination of ’advanced’ and ’backward’ forms within the latter. Obviously, seizing upon the technical and scientific resources of present day capitalism would make it much easier to carry the task, if we compare the challenge faced by those who took power less than a century ago.
The scientific and technological break-through of today enshrine an enormous potential for mankind, whereas their control by capital turns them into a threat to our existence -with probably disastrous consequences for mankind as a whole.
On the eve of World War II, Trotsky pointed out that:‘Capitalism achieved the twin historical merit of having placed technique on a high level and having bound all parts of the world with economic ties. Thus it pledged the material prerequisites for the systematic utilisation of all of our planet’s resources. However, capitalism is in no position to fulfil this urgent task. The nidus of its expansion continues to consist of circumscribed nationalist states with their customs houses and armies. Yet the productive forces have long outgrown the boundaries of the national state, thereby transforming what was once a progressive historical factor into an unendurable restraint. Imperialist wars are nothing else that the detonations of productive forces against the state borders, which have come to be too confining for them’’. This was a naked fact already in the 1930s, with the last 70 years only deepening these tendencies.
When confronted with the challenges of our time, the perspective hammered out by Trotsky still accounts for the revolutionary horizon of our epoch: “Partial reforms and patchwork will do no good. Historical development has come to one of those decisive stages when only the direct intervention of the masses is able to sweep away the reactionary obstructions and lay the foundations of a new regime. Abolition of private ownership in the means of production is the first prerequisite to planned economy, i.e., the introduction of reason into the sphere of human relations, first on a national and eventually on a world scale. (…) By the example and with the aid of the advanced nations, the backward nations will also be carried away into the main stream of socialism. (…) Liberated humanity will draw itself up to its full height”. Far from the possibilistic thrust of the prevailing views today, revolutionary Marxism in the 21st century should stand for such far-sighted and noble goals.
After being sent to his political seclusion in San Casciano in 1512, once the power of the Medici was restored over the ruins of Florentine republic, Macchiavelli used to spend entire afternoons in his study maintaining a dialogue with the great classic thinkers of the Ancient world, striving to deal with the challenges posed by the new times. It was in that context that he was able to forge the works that would give him long-lasting fame, turning him into a pioneer of modern political theory.
Under the reign of rampant ’neo-liberalism’, revolutionary Marxists were confined to a particular political ’exile’. The verdict against us was that we ’had been surpassed by history’, and that indictment was proclaimed by the advocates of the status quo, the intelligentsia striving to cover the present state of affairs with a varnish of legitimacy. But the situation has started to change in the last few years -the tide is changing. Capitalism is discredited, and new generation has come into the fray, having put those who presented themselves as ’alternatives’ to the test. The working class, in turn, is showing symptoms of a revival. Today, like then, we should maintain our dialogue with Trotsky -and Lenin, Luxemburg, Gramsci...- if we are to chart a certain perspective for revolution in the 21st century.
* Dossier "Revolutionary Marxism as an alternative for the 21st century" published in Estrategia Internacional No21, September 2004
1 In Considerations on Western Marxism, Perry Anderson argues that precisely the Marxism that was defending Trotsky’s legacy has the possibility of recreating revolutionary theory in the classical sense, after the revolutionary process opened in 1968. Ten years later, in ‘In the Tracks of Historical Materialism’, he explains that in his view, the Portuguese Revolution of 1974-75 was the IV International’s lost opportunity. From here, the political course followed by Anderson – who has always been a follower of Isaac Deutscher’s ideas rather than Trotsky’s – developed towards increasingly sceptical positions, under the impact of the advance of neo-liberal policies during the ’80s and ’90s.
2 The absence of any consideration of Trotsky’s ideas is notorious in the works of Tony Negri and other ‘Marxist renewal’ theoreticians. This cannot be explained merely by the fact that Trotsky has been ignored in the history of the Italian left due to the hegemony of the Italian Communist Party, once the biggest communist parties in the West. In spite of its open anti-Stalinism, the ‘operaísmo’ has never incorporated Trotsky within its corpus of ideas. However, despite the fact that Negri spent more than 10 years in France, a country where Trotskyism has an important political influence and where outstanding intellectuals proclaim themselves as Trotskyists, Trotsky’s thoughts have not influenced Negri’s works. The truth of the matter is that for any ‘anti-dialectician’ – as Negri describes himself – Trotsky is a very uncomfortable figure.
3 An analysis of Trotsky and the Trotskyists in the Second World War is available in the compilation Guerra y Revolución:Una visión alternativa de la Segunda Guerra Mundial (‘War and Revolution: An alternative view of the Second World War’) recently published by the CEIP Leon Trotsky of Argentina. (Available only in Spanish)
4 Leon Trotsky: ‘Marxism in Our Time’, pp 23-24, originally published 26th February 1939 and reprinted by Pathfinder Press, NY, 1970. In the Spanish version the 1939 text is taken from ‘Naturaleza y dinámica del capitalismo and the economy of transition’, edited by CEIP, Leon Trotsky, Buenos Aires, 1999, pp. 182-183. Trotsky follows here a similar reasoning as Lenin, when in ‘Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism’ he criticises Kautsky’s theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’. According to Lenin, it is true that the tendencies of the capitalist economy pushed towards a ‘single world trust’. But at the same time this tendency encountered others that made impossible the materialisation of such a perspective.
5 Idem, pp. 23-24. He continues: “From the peak of unprecedented prosperity the economy of the United States was catapulted into the abyss of monstrous prostration. No one in Marx’s day could have conceived convulsions of such magnitude! The national income of the United States had risen for the first time in 1920 to sixty-nine billion dollars, only to drop the very next year to fifty billion dollars, i.e., by 27 per cent. In consequence of the prosperity of the next few years, the national income rose again, in 1929, to its highest point of eighty-one billion dollars, only to drop in 1932 to forty billion dollars, i.e., by more than half! During the nine years 1930-1938 were lost approximately forty-three million man-years of labour and 133 billion dollars of the national income, assuming the norms of labour and income of 1929, when there were ‘only’ two million unemployed. If all this is not anarchy, what can possibly be the meaning of the word?” (p. 24)
6 Leon Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, Victor Gollancz Ltd, London, 1967, pp.23.
7 Leon Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution, New Park Publications, London, 1975, pp.22-23. In Spanish quoted from La Teoría de la Revolución Permanente (Compilation, CEIP, Buenos Aires, 2000, pp. 402)
8 Zymgunt Bauman, Society under Siege, Polity Press, UK, 2002,pp. 69- 70
9 idem., pp. 18-19
10 Antonio Negri, Guías cinco lecciones en torno al imperio (Five Lessons about Empire).
11 In this book Negri uses a typology designed by his co-thinker Michael Hardt in order to develop a typology of theoretical positions around the concepts ‘globalisation/democracy’. “In this model, and in order to organise the diverse positions around this issue, a four-fold classification has been chosen: a first division is between those who defend the view that globalisation reinforces and develops democracy and those who, on the contrary, hold the view that it blocks or inhibit it. This first division is multiplied by two: both conceptions, optimistic and pessimistic, can be considered from the ‘right’ or the ‘left’. Thus, four points of view emerge.
12 Idem, page 19
13 Idem, page 176
14 It is true that, under Bush’s administration, the high point of this thesis is past. During Clinton’s two terms American imperialist interests tried to hide under the legitimacy of the United Nations or NATO,and the growth of the American economy created fertile soil for ridiculous ideas like ‘the new economy’ and the capacity of capitalism to avoid crisis and economic cycles. However, we should not consider that these arguments have been overcome: if Kerry wins and adds a ‘multilateral’ tone to American foreign policy, or the limited growth of the world economy is maintained for a couple of years, the same arguments will rise again.
15 Look at Negri’s position regarding Kirchner and Lula’s governments and one will note that the theoretician of the ‘constituent’ power ends up at the feet of the representatives of the ‘constituted’ power.
16 Introduction to the compilation of Trotsky’s work ‘Naturaleza y dinámica del capitalismo y la economía de transición’, by Paula Bach, CEIP, Buenos Aires and ‘La crisisy la curva del desarrollo capitalista’Christian Castillo, Estrategia Internacional,Vol. 6, No7, March/ April 1998.
17 For example, the catastrophist analysis of Partido Obrero, from Argentina.
18 We say ‘relative’ because stability and strong economic growth in imperialist centres were accompanied by new revolutionary activity in the colonial and semi-colonial world (that during Yalta were truly ‘weak links’) and by the fact that after the Chinese Revolution and the expropriation of the bourgeoisie in the countries belonging to the ‘glacis’ a third of the world map was prevented from direct exploitation of capital.
19 Figures taken from Samanta Paladino and Marco Vivarelli: ‘The employment intensity of economic growth in the G-7 countries’, in International Labour Review, 136:2, 1997.
20 David Harvey, ‘The new faces of imperialism’, interview published in Herramienta No26, July 2004.
21 Daniel Bensaïd: Le sourire du Spectre, Nouvel esprit du communisme, Editions Michalon, Paris, 2000 (own translation)
22 Pablo Virno has recognised recently that: “If we identify the new model of world sovereignty with the Clinton years, calling it ‘Empire’, we risk falling into silence when Bush comes on the scene. I think that only now, with the Iraq war, the real ‘after the Wall’ period begins, that is, the real, long redefinition of political forms. Only now a ‘constituent phase’ starts. Terrible events, without doubt, but ones in which the movement of movements is able to act.”,in Página 12, 18/07/04.
23 Taking into account the different situations, It is not the role played by the anticapitalist at present similar to the role played by the Russian populists, that after the period of world reaction that followed the defeat of the Paris Commune give way (prepare the road) for the maturation of the revolutionary working class that made the 1905 and 1917 revolution? It is not their presence the anticipation of the entering into scene of the only subject that can give a positive perspective, the socialisation of the means of production and the democratic plan of the economy at world level?
25 Francisco de Olivera, founder of the Brazilian PT and the first intellectual to publicly break with that party after Lula’s access to power, is an advocate of such views. He has presently rallied with the PSOL, a recently founded party by MPs expelled from the PT in 2003 for voting against Lula’s pension reform bill. In July 2003 he wrote an article on Brazil in which he claims: ’Dominated by the Third Industrial Revolution, a molecular-digital revolution, combined with a drive towards a mundialisation of capital, the productivity of labour has leaped forward towards full-blown abstract labour (...) Here, both absolute and relative surplus value are merged: in its absolute form, informal work just brings about a steady replacement, by product, of what could be regarded as salary; and capital resorts to the individual worker only when it needs him; in its relative form it is the enhanced productivity of labour in the cradle of molecular-digital accumulation what makes room for the use of informal labour (...) the effect of such massive increase in the productivity of labour, of that virtual abstract labour, cannot be other than devastating (...) Combined with the so-called productive re-structuring, we witness what Castel has branded ’disaffiliation’, i.e., a deconstruction of the waged relationship, in all levels and sectors. Outsourcing, flexibility, casualisation, unemployment (...): groups of youngsters at intersections selling all sorts of things, handing over brochures on new housing developments, washing windscreens, street vendors everywhere (...) Let us humour ourselves theoretically: it is all virtual abstract labour (...) The labour forces no longer have any social ’power’, since it has been eroded by productive re-structuring and virtual-abstract labour; nor do they have political ’power’, since it is very unlikely that such changes in the technical and material foundation of production should not have strong repercussions on class formation.’
26 See Juan Chingo and Julio Sorel, Crisis of Work or Crisis of Capitalism? in Estrategia Internacional N° 10, and Christian Castillo, Communism without Transition?, in Estrategia Internacional N° 17.
27 A good critique of these views can be found in Michel Husson’s ’Have we Entered the phase of Cognitive Capitalism?’, published in Spanish in Lucha de Clases, N° 2/3, April 2004.
28 This can be seen in Ulrich Beck’s analysis, who builds a phallacy by putting an equal sign between increasing casualised jobs and ’the withering away of waged labour’. In his text ’Alternative Policies to the Society of Work’, he recognises that ’when one looks at the forms of work flowing from those places with the most advanced IT and intellectual labour, in my view, the most important feature consists in higher indexes of waged labour in casual positions, in flexible jobs. We are witnessing a process by means of which regulated labour is replaced by non regulated labour (...) both in terms of hiring conditions and space and time, non regulated labour replaces regulated labour (...) the meaning of such development...is deeply ambivalent. It not only concerns low qualified jobs, but also skilled ones (...) To sum up my appraisal: work loses its importance and is fragmented; know how and capital gain increased importance.’ However, his solutions boil down to common places, even when he collapses the concept that waged labour gets ’casualised’ with another one postulating that waged labour ’disappears’. ’Enhanced education; transforming the lack of waged labour in a new emancipating opportunity; transforming the lack of waged labour in well-being measured up against time and the increased sovereignty of the individual (flowing from) not considering basic income and welfare provision to the status of citizen and not that of the workers anymore’; the right to discontinued work; participation of labour in the earnings of capital; or the model to which Beck feels more closely attached to: ’promoting the third tier of civil society’ -different variations of Jeremy Rifkin’s thesis in his book The End of Work. Let us see how this scheme plays out: ’The scheme consists in setting up self-organised centres in which people can do what they really want to; basic resources furnished by the county halls and provinces are put at their disposal, but also those provided through corporative sponsorship. The real priorities to be dealt with by citizens’ work are discussed at a municipal level; these activities could include political topics.’ This what the ’imagination’ of one of the hottest sociologist of our time stands for: solutions that are mere ’progressive’ props for transferring state atributes to ’civil society’, i.e., a sidekick for the neoliberal agenda demanding ’a cut of state deficit’.
29 Data taken from Labour Force Statistics 1982-2002 (OCDE 2003), quoted by Mauricio Rojas. Mitos del Milenio. El fin del trabajo y los nuevos profetas del Apocalipsis, Timbro, Buenos Aires, March 2004. Although the text is an encomium of neoliberalism full of fallacious interpretations, it also furnishes relevant data to show the lack of truth in many trendy views of today.
30 The other countries included in the survey are: Holland, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, United States, Great Britain, Canada, Denmark, Australia, Japan, France and Italy, ranked in a decreasing order according to the variation of percentages of employment vis-à-vis the population, comparing the years 1980-82 and 2000-02.
31 The other twelve countries are: China, Chile, South Korea, Mexico, Venezuela, Indonesia, Brazil, Thailand, Taiwan, Egypt, Malasia and Philippines, listed following the same criteria as in note 30.
32 Chris Harman, ’The Workers of the World’, in International Socialism N° 96, p.7, 2002. Of the whole mass of wage-earners worldwide, those bourgeois sections which get a corporate earning and those sections within the ’new middle class’ getting wages higher than the value they create in exchange for control of the mass of workers -these layers account for 10% of wage-earners. Harman’s work is based upon Deon Filmer research ’Estimating the World at Work’, a World Bank report, Report on World Development 1995. The work is available at WB’s website http://monarch.worldbank.org/pub/decweb/WorkingPapers/WPS1400series/wps1488
33 It is worth noticing how similar the problematic in this text by Trotsky is to the often quoted reflections made by Gramsci on the differences separating strategic conditions for proletarian revolution in the backward Russian ’East’ to the more advanced ’West’. On the relationship between both thinkers, see the article by Emilio Albamonte and Manolo Romano: ’Trotsky and Gramsci: a Posthumous Dialogue’ and ’Permanent Revolution and the War of Position: the theory of revolution in Gramsci and Trotsky’, in Estrategia Internacional N° 19, January 2003.
34 In previous articles we pointed out that in spite of being on the left of the big reformist apparatuses, the Trotskyist currents were unable to resist against the stream, and the Fourth International just fragmented into a myriad of centrist tendencies, which just kept weak and episodic threads of continuity with Trotsky’s legacy.
35 See article in this magazine
36 Gianni Vattimo, Charles Taylor, Richard Rorty, A Dialogue on Globalisation
37 As Trotsky pointed out on the new deal in the above mentioned article, ’Marxism and Our Time’: ’The politics of new deal, which tries to save imperialist democracy by means of perks handed over to the labour and peasant aristocracy can only be afforded in its full scope by a handful of truly rich nations, and as such it remains an American policy through and through (...) But not even that nation can continue living at the expense of past generations. The politics of new deal, with its ficticious results and the very real increase of the national debt, has to culminate in ferocious capitalist backlash and a devastating explosion of imperialism.’
38 Richard Rorty, Forjar nuestro país. El pensamiento de izquierdas en los Estados Unidos del siglo XX, [Forging our Country. The Left Thought in America in the 20th Century] Editorial Paidós, Ibérica, Barcelona, 1999, ps 89-90
39 Helio Jaguaribe, Argentina and Brazil in the face of the Third Wave of Globalisation, Clarín.
42 Helio Jaguaribe, ’Argentina and Brazil faced with their Historical Alternatives’, in Aldo Ferrer and Helio Jaguaribe, Argentina and Brazil within Globalisation. Mercosur or FTAA?, Fondo de Cultura Económica, Buenos Aires, 2001, ps 97-98.
43 Jaguaribe goes out of his way to come up with good economic arguments to provide a rationale for regional integration in the Mercosur, as an alternative to the FTAA. In doing so, he overlooks the fact that since the Mercosur was enforced, the imperialist grip on our region has tightened. It was devised as a big scale market to attract investment from multinational corporations, a role that the Mercosur served well during the first half of the 1990s, when a high inflow of Foreign Direct Investment poured in -at the heyday of the Emerging Markets- until the so-called Tequila Crisis. A whole series of crises ensued after that, which affected the different countries to various degrees. After the Brazilian devaluation in 1999, the Mercosur suffered serious strain because Argentina kept is currency pegged to the dollar, a tendency that was reversed after the peso devaluation -with the Mercosur gaining fresh impetus after that. However, it has so failed to bring about a qualitative leap in the commercial exchange between both countries, although it has led to an increasingly coordinated intervention by the Kirchner and Lula administration on world forums, including world commerce forums. But this does not mean that increased autonomy from America’s interests has been conquered -there is the shameful participation of Argentine and Brazilian troops in Haiti, contributing with the US’s operation and endorsing what was a de facto coup d’état engineered by the Pentagon against Aristide. It is all about achieving a place as subordinate partner within the American order in Latin America, a partner that goes out of its way to be seen as a ’responsible’ agent. And this is true to the extent that even Jaguaribe himself laments Lula’s government pro-IMF ’orthodoxy’.
44 Luiz Carlos Bresser Pereira, Os très momentos de Hélio Jaguaribe, in Alberto Venancio Filho, Isreal Klabin and Vicente Barreto, Estudos em Homenagem a Hélio Juaribe, São Paulo, Editora Paz e Terra, 2000.
45 We have to remember that in 2001, was consider “at the end of the 20th Century as the best well educated society in Latin America, with a high level of civility, magnificent natural and human resources, having in Buenos Aires, the best city in the region and with an important number of lifht industries.. with a very good national system of communication and transport, and with Fernando de la Rua, a serious and deeply responsible government (ditto, p. 91)
46 In his Nationalised Industry and Workers’ Management, Trotsky wrote on the Cárdenas government: ’In those economically backward countries, foreign capital plays a decisive role. Hence the relative weakness of the national bourgeoisie with regards to the local proletariat. This fosters special conditions for state power. The government wavers between foreign and national capital, between a relatively weak national bourgeoisie and a relatively strong proletariat. And this endows the government with a sui-generis Bonapartist nature, one of a particular nature. It raises itself above the classes. In reality, it can govern by becoming itself an instrument of foreign capital and oppressing the proletariat with the chains of a police-styled dictatorship, or else use the proletariat as a platform for manoeuvre, going as far as making concessions to the latter, thus achieving some room for manoeuvre with regards to foreign capitalists. The present policy [that pursued by the Mexican government] is of the second type; his biggest achievements are the expropriation of the railways and the oil companies. These measures are clearly in line with state capitalism. However, state capitalism in a semicolonial country is subject to the pressure of foreign capital and its governments, and cannot withstand without relying on the workers. That is the reason why, without letting power out of its hands (the Mexican government) seeks to give the organizations of labour a significant share of responsibility in running production in the nationalised branches of the economy.’ Leon Trotsky, Writings on Latin America, CEIP "León Trotsky", Buenos Aires, second edition, 2000.
47 Leon Trotsky, ’The Future of Latin America’, May 1940, inWritings on Latin America, CEIP "León Trotsky", Buenos Aires, second edition, 2000, p 168.
48 An example would be the promoters of the plan ‘Phoenix’.
49 Liborio Justo, Argentina and Brazil in the face of Continental Integration, Buenos Aires, 1983.
50 Beck considera que el “riesgo” -que ha ido transformándose en un concepto “fetiche” desde su utilización original a mediados de los ’80, a mano para responder frente a fenómenos muy dispares- es un componente de lo que llama la “segunda modernidad”, la cual surge a partir de “una serie de procesos que pueden ser entendidos como una radicalización de la modernización”. Resumidamente se caracteriza porque “nos las tenemos que ver con la globalización, la individualización, la merma del trabajo asalariado y las crisis ecológicas al mismo tiempo y no sabemos cómo enfrentar todos estos desafíos” (Ulrich Beck, Políticas alternativas a la sociedad del trabajo, en Presente y futuro del Estado de Bienestar: el debate europeo, Miño y Dávila Editores y SIEMPRO, Buenos Aires, 2001, pág. 14 y 15). En el plano de la individualización, implica que en la sociedad de riesgo los individuos eligen libremente, pero esto lejos de ser satisfactorio resulta incluso más frustrante: hay que tomar decisiones constantemente acerca de materias que afectan de modo fundamental las vidas de todo el mundo, pero sin contar con una base adecuada de conocimiento. Es la frustración que deviene de tratar de dar “salidas biográficas a contradicciones sistémicas”.
Lo que Beck denomina “segunda Ilustración” se opone a la meta de la “primera”. Si para esta última el objetivo era crear una sociedad en la cual las decisiones fundamentales perdieran su carácter irracional y se basaran por completo en una comprensión racional del estado de cosas existente, la “segunda Ilustración” impone a cada sujeto de la sociedad la carga de tomar decisiones cruciales, que podrían afectar aún nuestra supervivencia, en el marco de una inevitable incertidumbre acerca de los resultados que podrán obtenerse; incertidumbre radical cuyo ocultamiento sería la función principal de los equipos gubernamentales de “expertos”. Zizek resume bien esta situación paradójica: “lejos de que la experimentemos como liberadora, esta compulsión a decidir libremente es para nosotros un juego obsceno que provoca angustia, una especie de inversión irónica de la predestinación: soy considerado responsable por decisiones que me veo obligado a tomar sin un conocimiento adecuado de la situación. La libertad de decisión de la que disfruta en la sociedad de riesgo no es la libertad de alguien que puede escoger libremente su destino, sino la libertad angustiante de alguien constantemente obligado a tomar decisiones sin conocer las consecuencias” ( Slavoj Zizek, El espinoso sujeto, Paidós, Buenos Aires, 2001, página 359). Zizek va en un sentido correcto cuando señala que si uno analiza las tesis de Beck atentamente puede concluir que estas están formuladas bajo el modelo del uso incontrolado de la ciencia y de la técnica bajo las condiciones del capitalismo: “El caso paradigmático del ‘riesgo’... es el de la nueva invención científico-tecnológica aplicada por una empresa privada sin que medie el debate y el control público y democrático adecuado, suscitando de tal modo el espectro de consecuencias imprevistas y catastróficas en el largo plazo. No obstante, ¿no arraiga este tipo de riesgo en el hecho de que la lógica del mercado y el lucro está impulsando a las empresas de propiedad privada a seguir su camino y utilizar las innovaciones científicas y tecnológicas (o simplemente aumentar su producción) sin tomar realmente en cuenta los efectos en el largo plazo sobre el ambiente, y también sobre la salud de la humanidad? (...) la conclusión que hay que extraer, ¿no es que en la actual situación global, en la cual las empresas privadas no alcanzadas por el control político público están tomando decisiones que pueden afectarnos a todos, incluso al punto de amenazar nuestra superviviencia, la única solución consiste en una especie de socialización directa del proceso productivo? ¿No es la única solución avanzar hacia una sociedad en la cual las decisiones globales sobre las orientaciones fundamentales acerca del desarrollo y el empleo de la capacidad productiva estén de algún modo en las manos de todo el colectivo de las personas afectadas por esas decisiones?” Al no señalar nada de esto los teóricos de la sociedad de riesgo no hacen otra cosa que abstenerse “de cuestionar los principios básicos de la lógica anómica de las relaciones de mercado y el capitalismo global”. Sin embargo, a la hora de pensar cómo llegar hacia una “socialización directa del proceso productivo”, Zizek (un intelectual caracterizado por el eclecticismo teórico y fuertes oscilaciones políticas) no dice, como era de esperar en quien acepta muchos de los prespuestos de los teóricos posmodernos sobre la pérdida de peso estructural del proletariado, más que balbuceos.
51 Although Toni Negri deems that Beck’s views can be assimilated to those of ’liberal cosmopolitism’, which just argue that ’globalisation is beneficial for democracy’, we believe that his thesis combines aspects of the two types mentioned above. Like the advocates of ’globalisation’, he deems that radical changes have occurred, which mean we have left ’classical modernity’ behind. However, it is not exactly right to regard his view on a ’second modernity’ as merely panegyric. It is rather ambiguous, being either ’optimistic’ about the possibilities enshrined by it, or else pessimistic about the risks it entails. Furthermore, Beck does not believe that states and politics can be done away with, siding with those advocating the formation of ’post national states’, with the European Union as a paramount model to be developed.
52 Leon Trotsky, ’Nationalism and the Economy’, in Nature and Dynamics of Capitalism and the Transitional Economy, op cit, p 138
53 The EU’s helplessness to act as a unified imperialist bloc is a factor partly buttressing the decline of America on the world arena, giving it an enhanced room for manoeuvre, if we compared this with the situation in the 1920s and the 1930s, when the rise of the US challenged a stagnating and declining Europe.
54 Leon Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution, op cit, p 148
55 Leon Trotsky, Marxism and Our Time, op cit.