From initial resistance to class struggle:

Austerity means robbing the workers to pay the rich — fight back!

(CV #46, November 2011)

Every day brings more bad news for workers. People are losing their jobs and their homes. Unemployment and under-employment persist; people are out of work for longer and longer, with little hope of finding something new. If they do find something new, it often pays a mere fraction of what they formerly received. And just at the time when they are most needed, social services of all types are being cut back and fees are being raised, while the different levels of government compete with the private sector in layoffs and wage cuts.

We are in the midst of a world economic depression. What’s happening to us is happening to workers elsewhere, and often more severely than here. This issue of Communist Voice reports on some of these savage cutbacks. But every newscast, every newspaper brings news of more.

But every day also brings us the news of people who have had enough. They are standing up to say "no!". There are demonstrations and general strikes in one country after another against austerity budgets. In the face of murderous repression, the Arab Spring continues, motivated in part by the growing inequality and economic hopelessness brought by years of market-fundamentalist "reforms" in the Middle East and North Africa. Simmering discontent has even reached the streets of Israel, where weeks of protest saw hundreds of thousands of people calling for economic change. There were the civil explosions all across the Britain, triggered by yet another police murder of a black man, this time in London, but also reflecting pent-up outrage over year after year of cutbacks and economic hopelessness. And the Occupy Wall Street movement has caught fire, spreading from Wall Street itself to cities all across the US, and even into Europe, Asia, Australia, and elsewhere.

Yet so far, the austerity continues. What is the reason for the continuing cutbacks and economic misery, and how can the people raise their voice more effectively?

The newspapers, politicians, and economic authorities tell us that the world has been living beyond its means, and there just isn't any money left for adequate wages, pensions, universal health programs, and decent public schools. If this were really true, then no protests or strikes could change it. We would just have to do our best in a world when the majority starve to ensure the survival of a privileged few.

But is it really true that there just aren’t enough resources for good wages, pensions, health programs, and schools? If this were so, we would expect to see jobs for everyone, as countries desperately tried to produce the goods that wages and pensions are spent on, and to provide the personnel needed to maintain social services. There would be more and more jobs in the struggle to overcome shortages and provide better food, more houses, and more medical equipment, to renew failing infrastructure, and to train more teachers, doctors, nurses, and  skilled workers, and so on. Instead we see vacant houses and offices, schools being torn down, and factories shutting down. Resources are being wasted and destroyed, while it is claimed that people must tighten their belts because of scarcity. In fact, we see that the capitalist economies are choking on too many resources, not too few. The capitalist world is stuck in yet another over-production crisis, with too many goods to sell and not enough buyers.

So it’s not that the world doesn’t have the necessary resources. It’s that the capitalists, the ruling class, are monopolizing everything. In the US, the percentage of the total income of the country going to the top 1% of households has more than doubled over the last thirty years, and has reached 25% of total income; and in that period the income of CEOs has gone up more like seven times. The distribution of wealth is even more unequal than the distribution of income. The top 1% of families owns 40% of the country's total wealth, which is about twice as much as the bottom 90%. Indeed, the 400 richest Americans own more than the 150 million people in the bottom half of the country. And we've reached a limit: there's no way to keep concentrating more income at the top, without drastic cuts from what little remains for the mass of people.

Meanwhile the capitalists have no solution for the world depression. They had no solution for the business cycle in the years of the Great Depression of the 1930s; they had no solution in the years after World War II of "mixed capitalism"; and they still don’t have any solution under neo-liberalism or market fundamentalism. Today their only idea is to shield the profits of the corporations and the income of the rich from being affected by the depression. The way they want to achieve this is through austerity for the people, and subsidies for the rich. Behind the sound bites, the real debate between Democrat and Republican is over how much further to cut the standard of living of the working class, 10%, 20%, 30% or more? The politicians are mulling it over, thinking "It was done in Greece and Ireland, why not do it here?" "We stomped on the auto workers in the ‘Great Recession’, why not stomp on the postal workers in the 'Invisible Recovery'?" "We have terrorized the teachers for years, so why not go after all the public sector workers?" The liberal Democrats shed crocodile tears over their victims, while the Republican Tea Party says the poor are just getting what they deserve. But their joint Congressional budgetary "supercommittee" is just a callous death panel, deliberating on how many more millions will go hungry.

The resources do exist to satisfy the people’s needs, but what stands in the way of relief for the masses is the control of these resources by the capitalists. So the demonstrators and strikers are right: there is no way out of the current misery except to oppose the austerity drive of the bourgeoisie.

Without this fight, all the measures taken in the name of dealing with the hard times will, in fact, be turned against the workers. Bail-outs will be used to cut wages; mortgage relief will mainly be used to give subsidies to the banks, not to help people keep their homes; financial reform will just be a fancy way of saving shareholders and paying off the speculators.

Indeed, no one can guarantee that this or that government measure will end the depression: the capitalist system is built on anarchy and unpredictability. The business cycle is a permanent feature of capitalism: boom and bust, with boom leading to bust, and bust, if things go right, being followed by boom. So activists should look to the goal of finding an alternative to capitalism. Meanwhile, we should fight, not for ways to magically cure capitalism, but to improve the militant organization of the working class and for immediate measures to protect the masses from the consequences of the spreading economic crash.

Moreover, the present world depression isn't just another business cycle. It is the crisis of market fundamentalism, combining economic disaster, environmental crisis, and continuing wars. One way or the other, there are going to be major changes in what the present economies, financial systems, and governments look like. The question is how far these changes are simply going to put more pressure on the working class, and preserve the spirit of market fundamentalism in a new form, or how far the working class will succeed in protecting itself and the environment.

The world depression is giving rise to mass struggles in one country after another. Let's support and strengthen this wave of resistance and help it take the path of class struggle! The needs of the present include:

* A fight for immediate measures to aid distressed workers, the unemployed, youth, retirees, etc. It’s a bourgeois fraud, engaged in both by both parties of big business, the Republicans and the Democrats, to say that subsidies for corporations are "jobs" bills. There should instead be programs to directly employ millions of workers and youth on needed projects. There should be an end to the increasingly severe punitive measures to penalize the poor, the unemployed, and the disadvantaged -- from sadistic relief requirements to laws criminalizing being poor in public. Instead there would be an improvement and extension of public services and the social safety net, both of which have been shredded in the last few decades and are being savagely cut further now, at the time of utmost need. And there should be an end to attacks on immigrant workers, and a fight against the growing racism being manifested by the bourgeoisie.

* The banking and financial system should be taken over and turned into a  public service. If Wall Street has become "too big to fail", then it’s too big to be in private hands. The financial system should not be bailed out; instead, the current institutions should be eliminated. True, the financial problems are basically just a symptom of the deeper problems of capitalism, with its overproduction crises and business cycles and increasing inequality. But countries are being strangled with austerity budgets in order to keep the financial institutions happy. So without breaking the power of the present financial system, few other reforms are possible.

* The privatization of government should be reversed. Years of neo-liberal privatization has undermined public services and made government regulation into a joke. What is needed, however, is not a return to the old-style of regulatory agencies, but a new type of regulation where the workers have some say with respect to its administration. The capitalist governments will never give this to the people as a gift, no matter what laws are passed, and it is only possible to a limited extent under capitalism. But the fight over this is essential if public services are to be restored, mass relief accomplished, and any real environmental progress achieved.

* Tax the rich and big business. Neither balanced budgets nor deficit spending are the panaceas which the various schools of bourgeois economics believe. The effect of the budget depends on what it is spent on, the nature of government programs, and the overall circumstances. But government does have to tax, and it is the rich, who possess the wealth of the country, who should bear the burden of the taxes and fees.

* There must be a serious environmental program. This cannot wait until the depression is over. Climate change has already begun and is wreaking damage around the world, and if something isn’t done soon, we face truly catastrophic results. Yet some capitalists still deny that there is any real problem, while others, while talking about the environmental crisis, champion futile market measures to deal with it. Indeed some sham "green" capitalists are promoting nuclear power as supposedly clean energy, while others want to devastate a good deal of the countryside and the nation's water supplies via hydraulic "fracking" for natural gas. This issue of Communist Voice carries an article on the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and also a discussion of Al Gore’s new campaign against climate denial, where he denounces others for closing their eyes to global warming, while himself looking away from the sorry results of the market-based policies which he claims are the solution. It will take bringing the class struggle into the environmental movement if there ever is going to be realistic and effective measures taken to deal with the environmental crisis.

* The working class has to not only fight the capitalists, but to transform itself in the midst of this fight. Today American unions are mainly run by an overpaid set of pro-capitalist fat-cats, who fear worker militancy as much as the capitalists do. Also, there is no mass political organization that speaks for the workers, while the union bureaucrats run after pro-business politicians, mostly Democrats. The so-called "socialist" parties in Europe are no better, and have implemented austerity as much as the avowed capitalist ones; and the so-called "socialist" regimes of the present are simply state-capitalist frauds. The fight against austerity will never get lasting results while the working class is hamstrung by the very organizations that speak in its name.

* Class-conscious activists should form networks at workplace, schools, and communities. This would be an important step towards strengthening the present movement. Activists need to come together to develop organizations that take their stand on the basis of the class struggle, and are independent of the pro-capitalist union bureaucrats, the Democratic Party politicians, and the old bankrupt reformist methods of struggle. This doesn't mean boycotting the present unions, but it does mean increasing the ability of workers to fight the capitalists in defiance of the sell-out union bureaucracy. This doesn’t mean standing aside from the present mass struggles, but providing them with a firmer basis and deeper roots into all sections of the working masses.

* While fighting for our immediate needs, we also need to revive the goal of the overthrow of capitalism. The reforms we win under capitalism, no matter how essential for our present well-being and for preserving the environment, are all band-aids so long as the main means of production and the environment itself -- the natural resources, the factories and workplaces, the schools and research institutions, the accumulated knowledge of the past, the reserves of manufactured goods, etc. -- are owned by a minority, the capitalist owners, and used for their profit. So in this issue of Communist Voice we continue our coverage of the discussion about what socialism should be, and how it differs from state-capitalism. There's an article on what's happening today in Castroist Cuba today: while the US imperialist blockade of Cuba is brutal imperialism, the Cuban government itself does not base itself on the will of the working class and is currently implementing its own market-fundamentalist privatization drive, just as market fundamentalism is going bankrupt on a world scale. We also include material from the debate in the Ukraine about the nature of the old, failed Stalinist system in the Soviet Union: an article by a Ukrainian activist, critiquing one of the main local theorists on state-capitalism, and our comment on this article.

* There needs to be a reexamination of revolutionary theory. Even the more intelligent establishment writers are admitting, every now and then, that the world depression shows that the Marxist critique of capitalism has a lot of truth to it. But they recoil before the idea of an alternative to capitalism, denouncing it as inevitably degenerating into Stalinism. Workers must look anew into the basic causes of the present crisis; and the different alternatives that have been set forward; and the strategy and tactics of the workers movement.

Here too the capitalists and their paid scribblers aren’t the only obstacle. The revolutionary movement has to transform itself. We must sum up the experience of the last century; the lessons of the collapse of former socialist attempts into state-capitalism; etc. We at Communist Voice say that Marxism-Leninism is the revolutionary theory of working-class struggle, but only if it’s reinvigorated by opposing "revisionism". The revisionists used the words of Marxism-Leninism, but turn them on their head in order to cover up for state-capitalism abroad, and for class collaboration with the capitalists here. In this issue of  Communist Voice we have, for example, material on why the great movement in the Middle East and North Africa against tyranny has not been greeted with open arms by much of the left, which has instead recoiled from it. Too much of the left, such as the Trotskyists and Stalinists, has used Marxism as an apology for oppressive regimes, rather than an ideology of struggle against them. Meanwhile the anarchists, while claiming to be against all regimes, repressive or not, are just as mystified by the Arab Spring.

There are no quick solutions to the present world crisis, no easy message of cheer. The world depression is causing massive misery, and it’s going to get worse. We don’t put forward a panacea; we don’t pretend that a simple technical cure will make the depression go away. Instead we point to the path of struggle, a path that workers will spontaneously be feeling their way towards as the crisis deepens. In the midst of the current pain, the working class, long suffering everywhere, will begin to rise again to fight for its own interests. The workers, here and around the world, need to develop a class-wide unity, to overcome old divisions caused by the different bourgeois trends that have gained mass influence, and to rise in support of their immediate needs.  But to do this, the working class will have to revolutionize its own organizations, as well as fight the capitalists. The class struggle, which the capitalists had believed vanquished, is back. And in this struggle lies the hope for the future.  <>

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Last changed on November 23, 2011.