The crisis of European capitalism now expresses itself as an acute crisis of the establishment, with political instability and a collapse of the centre ground seen across the continent.
We present here part two of the International Marxist Tendency’s 2018 perspectives for world revolution. This constitutes the Marxists’ analysis of the current situation in world politics, and predictions about where we are headed.
This draft document will be discussed and finalised at the IMT’s 2018 World Congress, set to take place this summer. It was originally written at the beginning of this year. Although some of the events described have moved on since, these developments only further confirm our overarching assessment of the world situation.
In this second part, we look at crisis of European capitalism, which is expressing itself in one country after another. Brexit; the refugee crisis; and the ongoing troubles in the eurozone: all of these reflect the contradictions of the system.
But the thing that most worries the ruling class now is the political instability seen across the continent, with a rejection of establishment parties and a collapse of the centre ground everywhere. This has revolutionary implications.
America and Europe
The people who really control the EU are the bankers, bureaucrats and capitalists, and particularly German capitalism. Originally the EU was dominated by France and Germany. The French bourgeoisie had big ideas that they could dominate it politically and militarily and Germany could dominate it economically. That didn’t last very long. Nobody now doubts that it is the German ruling class that dominates it completely.
As a result it has immediately come into conflict with the new man in the White House. Donald Trump and Angela Merkel are not on good terms. The reason is not to be found in their personal attributes – although these are very different. It is rather to be found in Mr. Trump’s electoral slogan “Make America Great Again.”
For the moment the German capitalists are doing rather well, with a huge trade surplus. In 2016, it was in the region of $270bn: an all-time record high. It is not necessary to be a Nobel Prize winner in economics to know that one country’s surplus is another’s deficit. Trump can at least add up and is not at all happy with this figure. And since diplomacy is not really his strong point, he has said so publicly to Merkel.
Trump says: “If the Germans don’t do something, I will cut the import of German cars into the U.S.” Now, this is very dangerous talk. If he continues down that road, that is a recipe for a trade war. The Germans would immediately retaliate, blocking certain American goods. Protectionism is the export of unemployment. Trump says he wants more jobs in America for Americans, which means fewer jobs for Germans, Chinese and others. That is the root cause of the antagonism between Washington and Berlin.
Trump went to Poland, where he met with an enthusiastic response. The choice of this visit was not at all accidental. Relations between Poland and Germany have been strained for a number of reasons, particularly over the question of imposing quotas for refugees. In fact, the fault lines in Europe are deepening all the time. The problem with Europe is that that the European countries don’t agree on anything very much these days. That is why Mr. Trump went to Poland: to deepen the cracks between Germany and its eastern neighbour.
His next stop was Paris, and that was also not accidental. Trump wants to drive a wedge between France and Germany. For his part, Macron was pleased to receive him to encourage the Americans to put pressure on the Germans, who already have enough on their plate with the negotiations over Brexit. That explains why Trump is so keen to express his solidarity with London, holding out the tempting prospect of a trade deal, sometime in the future – which may, or (very likely) may not, materialise.
The bourgeois economists are empirical and impressionistic. They detect a very slight growth in Europe – just over one percent (rather more in Germany) and they joyfully proclaim that the euro crisis is resolved. But the euro crisis is not resolved. In reality the crisis of European capitalism continues to deepen. In spite of the small upturn, the underlying fundamental problems remain. Nothing has been solved.
The economic experts of the IMF are publishing alarming reports about the state of the banks in Europe. The ECB has ploughed in billions, but as a result, when the next crisis comes, as it will as night follows day, it may lead to the collapse of the euro and possibly even threaten the unity of the EU itself. On 3 June 2017 The Economist stated: “The currency changed from an instrument for convergence between countries to a wedge driving them apart.” These few words show how the intelligent bourgeois are grasping what the Marxists said long ago.
Added to the already unstable situation within the EU is the refugee crisis. The imperialist meddling in the Middle East and North Africa has opened the gates to a flood of humanity desperate to escape the living hell it has been plunged into. This is putting enormous pressure on the EU member states, especially those most exposed to the daily arrival of new refugees and migrants.
Europe is thoroughly divided on this issue. Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are refusing to take any refugees. The problem is further exacerbated by the internal migration from the poorer EU countries to the richer ones, which in turn is provoking tensions even in a country like Germany, where the right wing is riding on the refugee question to win a section of the electorate.
This is in complete contrast to the situation after 1945, when Germany absorbed a far bigger influx of refugees from Eastern Europe. That was in a situation of world capitalist upswing. But in a situation of deep economic crisis and the stagnation of the productive forces, the influx of refugees only serves to create new contradictions that cannot be solved on the basis of capitalism. This is yet another factor of instability, increasing the centrifugal tendencies within the EU.
The tendencies towards the breakup of the EU also expressed themselves dramatically in Brexit. The vote in the referendum was yet another example of the mood of anger and bitterness that exists everywhere beneath the surface. The result was a political earthquake.
The bourgeois commentators were stunned when the “Leave” vote won. And those who were most shocked were the advocates of Brexit themselves. They never imagined they could win, and therefore had no plan and no strategy. Even now they do not appear to have the slightest idea what they are doing. The decisive sections of the British bourgeoisie did not want to leave the EU, but were forced to accept the result of the referendum, which will be disastrous for British capitalism and will also cause serious problems for the EU itself.
Brexit has created very serious problems in Ireland. The border between the independent south and the north, which is part of the UK, was made practically irrelevant in recent years. If the border is reintroduced when Britain leaves the EU it would have a devastating economic impact on both the south and the north.
As a result the whole Irish national question could be revived with the most serious implications. The politicians are struggling to reach some kind of a deal over this complicated question. Whether the end result will be sufficient to square the circle remains to be seen.
The British imagined they would have an easy ride. But that was never going to be the case. Even if Merkel wanted to be nice to the Brits (which is not at all clear), she cannot do London any favours because that would encourage others to follow its example and leave. To complicate things further, Merkel suffered a defeat in the elections and has the nationalist and anti-EU Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) breathing down her neck. All the fine talk about “European solidarity” is instantly forgotten, as the national antagonisms come to the surface. The outcome will create big problems both for Britain and the EU.
In Capital, Marx explains that during a boom, credit is easy but when there is a crisis all that changes into its opposite. The modern day Shylocks are demanding their pound of flesh from the Greeks. But there is no way that Greece can ever pay what Berlin and Brussels are demanding. All this has consequences. They are whipping up immense class hatred and polarisation in Greece and in all countries of Southern Europe.
After a decade of indescribable suffering, austerity, poverty and misery, what has been solved in Greece? The nation has been plunged into a desperate crisis. The young people have no work and are driven to emigrate, while the old are deprived of their pensions and driven to commit suicide.
Revolution is not a straight line, there will inevitably be ups and downs that we must be prepared for. After so many years of strikes, protests and demonstrations the Greek workers are exhausted and disappointed. They will say: “Everyone betrays us. We trusted Pasok, but Pasok betrayed us. We trusted Tsipras, and he also betrayed us – What more can we do?”
In the next general election SYRIZA will do badly according to opinion polls, falling to around 20% or even less. The Communist Party may make some small gains, but will not be able to fill the vacuum left by SYRIZA due to its sectarian stance. By default the New Democracy stands to gain, not in terms of any significant swing towards it, but simply in percentage terms. This would mean a right-wing coalition centred on ND would come to power. This would be a weak unstable government, but it would be forced to continue and deepen the attacks on the working class without having any authority with the working class. In these conditions there would be a renewed radicalisation to the left.
The present moods will not last forever; they are of a transitory character. The depth of the crisis is such that the workers and the youth have no alternative but to return to the struggle. New and even more violent explosions are being prepared for the future.
France – the bankruptcy of Macron’s ‘centre’
French capitalism was in crisis long before 2008. But last year’s elections in France provided the European bourgeois with an apparent respite. They were terrified that Marine Le Pen would come to power, as Trump had done in the USA. Like Trump, Le Pen is a reactionary chauvinist. She is also hostile to the European Union, and that, especially following the Brexit debacle, provoked serious concern in Brussels and Berlin. What really terrified the French bourgeois was the sudden surge of Mélenchon in the polls, at the very end of the campaign, because he would have certainly won against Le Pen or even Fillon in the second round – and had some chances to win against Macron.
The rise of Mélenchon shows that there is a growing polarisation between left and right. Jean-Luc Mélenchon came close to beating Le Pen, and he could have done so except for the criminal stupidity of the so-called Trotskyists in France. If you add up the votes of these two small parties, they made the difference between Mélenchon or Le Pen standing in the second round.
A direct clash between Mélenchon versus Macron in the second round would have changed everything. But that was prevented by the splitting antics of the sects. It would have been entirely possible for them to begin a campaign with a revolutionary programme, and then withdraw in favour of a vote for Mélenchon. They didn’t do that because they are typical sectarians who place the interests of their own petty sects before the general interests of the French working class.
In the end Macron won, and the bourgeois breathed a sigh of relief. The extremes were defeated and Moderation had triumphed at last! The good news sped from Paris to Berlin, to Rome, even in London they were opening bottles of champagne in the City. The Centre had won, but what do these people mean by Centre? They mean the Right that disguises its true nature by posing as something that it is not.
Macron has risen to power on the basis of the disintegration of the two parties that traditionally had the majority of voters (the Socialists and Republicans). In these elections the Socialists were crushed and the Republicans also lost heavily and did not reach the second round of the Presidential election. The PS may end up like the Pasok in Greece. The right-wing Republicans are also in very bad shape: prominent leaders have left the party to join Macron’s government (or party); the others are split in different fractions.
The Communist Party has been compromised by its links to the discredited Socialists and is now a marginal element in French politics. On the other hand, the Front National, despite its electoral defeat, won 1.3 million more votes than in 2012. But La France Insoumise, the party of Mélenchon, won 3 million votes and is now, together with the unions, the main opposition to Macron’s policies. In an opinion poll in October, 35% put La France Insoumise as the main opposition party, 13% pointed to the Front National and only 2% to the PS and the CP! Mélenchon’s party is now the main opposition both in parliament and on the streets.
It is not true that Macron won by an absolute majority. The absolute majority – including those who cast blank votes or abstained – did not vote for Macron! And this “silent majority” will not be silent for long. In fact, it did not take long for Macron to expose himself, since he immediately confirmed his intention to change the labour law to make it easier to sack workers.
Marx said that France was the country where the class struggle is always fought to the finish. The truth of that statement will soon be clear to everybody. We will see big demonstrations, strikes and general strikes. A repetition of 1968 is not at all ruled out: in fact, it is implicit in the situation.
Greece was the weakest link of European capitalism. Spain is only one step behind Greece. Italy is only one step behind Spain. And France is one step behind Italy. The Italian economy has been stagnating since the hard economic blow of 2008. Consequently scores of small and medium businesses have gone insolvent leaving them unable to pay back their debts.
The European banking system is in a disastrous state. It is weighed down with debt, and is only being propped up by the European Central Bank (ECB). That cannot continue indefinitely, since the ECB is being underwritten by the Germans. And they are not prepared to finance the deficits of the countries of southern Europe through their contributions to the ECB.
In Italy, there has been a major banking crisis. The fact is that the Italian banks are mainly bankrupt. According to EU rules governments are not allowed to bail out banks, but Italy was an exception. If the Italian banking system collapses it could bring down the whole European financial system. But the illegal bailouts solved nothing fundamental. Italy is in a deep crisis – not just economically and financially but politically.
There is a collapse of confidence in political parties. This was revealed clearly in the December 2016 referendum on constitutional reform where Renzi was massively defeated. The problem of the Italian bourgeois is that they do not have a strong government. But how can they get a strong government when they don’t even have a strong party? They used to have the Christian Democracy, but that is finished. Berlusconi’s Forza Italia is also weakened. And the Democratic Party, a bourgeois party formed from fusing a section of the old Communist Party with what was left of the Christian Democracy and other small bourgeois organisations, is in decline.
There is a process of complete fragmentation of the so-called Left which, put together don’t even reach seven percent in the opinion polls. In the past the Italian ruling class could rely on the PCI leaders to hold back the working class. But as a result of decades of Stalinist degeneration and numerous betrayals of the working class, the once all-powerful Communist Party has been totally liquidated.
In this vacuum we have seen the rise of Beppe Grillo and his Five Stars Movement. This is a protest movement, mainly petit-bourgeois in composition, with a confused mishmash of policies – some of them reactionary in character. In fact, it is not a party at all, and doesn’t have a structure. And its main programme is rejection of the euro. But given the absence of any alternative on the Left, it is attracting working class votes on the basis of their anti-establishment line, which can be summed up in the slogan: “Kick them all out!”
Grillo’s movement is an unstable and contradictory phenomenon, which is not likely to last. Its internal contradictions will soon come to the surface and it will rapidly enter into crisis. It is impossible to say at present how precisely the situation will unfold, but it is not a favourable situation for the Italian bourgeoisie.
The Italian working class, on the other hand, has extraordinary revolutionary traditions. The crisis of Italian capitalism will inevitably produce new and unprecedented explosions on the lines of May 1968 in France or the Hot Autumn in Italy in 1969. Once the big battalions begin to move, the entire situation will be rapidly transformed, with the emergence of new political formations of a very left-wing and radical character, as occurred in the years before and after 1969.
Despite a partial economic recovery, the crisis of the regime that started in 2008 is by no means resolved. The years of economic crisis, mass unemployment and attacks on living standards, combined with corruption scandals, have created a severe crisis of legitimacy of the whole of the Spanish bourgeois democratic regime. The long cycle of mass mobilisations in 2011-2015 eventually found a political expression with the emergence and rise of Podemos, which in the 2016 general elections won 21% of the vote.
The right-wing PP government is extremely fragile and must rely on the Basque nationalists for a majority in Congress. It has been undermined by corruption scandals. If the Left had united to overthrow it, it would have been finished. But the leaders of both Podemos and the United Left (Izquierda Unida) have revealed a complete inability to offer a serious alternative, while Pedro Sánchez the “left” leader of the PSOE has openly gone over to the side of reactionary Spanish nationalism.
Now, after the result of the 21 December Catalan elections, where Ciudadanos emerged as the first party, the Spanish ruling class is increasingly promoting and supporting this new right wing party, which is as reactionary as the PP, but which appears with new leaders and without the dead weight of corruption and the anti social programs which the PP has accumulated.
The Catalan question has served as a catalyst that has revealed deep fault lines in Spanish politics. All the parties of the Left are now divided and in crisis. The right wing is stoking the fires of reactionary anti-Catalan feelings and Spanish nationalism to mobilise the most backward layers of the population and the Left has no answer. As a result, despite everything, it cannot be ruled out that Ciudadanos and the PP may win the next elections.
This is the price the Spanish Left has to pay for the betrayals of the leaders of the PCE and PSOE four decades ago when they agreed to the reactionary 1978 Constitution that signified the retention of the old Franco state, together with the Monarchy, the domination of the Roman Catholic Church and the maintenance of the old repressive state apparatus, which they varnished with a thin layer of “democracy”.
The brutal nature of the Spanish state was revealed by the vicious repression of people in Catalonia whose only “crime” was their desire to vote for their own future. Now all the old demons are reappearing. Spanish society is as deeply divided as it was 40 years ago. The youth and the most advanced layers of the working class understand the reactionary nature of the 1978 Constitution and are prepared to fight against it.
Today the masses have shown their combative spirit on the streets of Barcelona. Tomorrow it will be the turn of the workers and youth of Euskadi, Asturias, Seville and Madrid. There will inevitably be defeats and setbacks as a consequence of the short-sightedness, stupidity and cowardice of the leadership. But the workers and youth of Spain, who have repeatedly displayed their willingness to fight in recent years, will learn new lessons.
There were many defeats in the past also, like the two black years that followed the defeat of the 1934 Asturian Commune. But the defeats we are talking about today are not at all comparable to that defeat. Today the forces of the working class remain intact, while the mass basis of reaction is infinitely weaker than it was then: there is no Moorish Legion, no reactionary Carlist peasantry, and the students who joined the Falange in droves then are now solidly behind the working class and the Left.
Finally, in a revolutionary period, such defeats can only be the prelude to new upheavals. In action, on the streets, in the factories and on the campuses, they will rediscover the revolutionary traditions of 1931-37 and of the marvellous struggle against the Franco dictatorship. Spain in the next period will once again find itself in the forefront of the revolutionary struggles in Europe.
The attempt of Catalonia to exercise the right of self-determination has been the most serious challenge ever to the 1978 regime. There are different elements to the equation. First of all, the backward and reactionary Spanish ruling class and its state, inherited wholesale from the Franco era. They consider any attempt to question the unity of Spain as a challenge to their whole regime which would then pose other questions (the Monarchy, austerity, etc). Therefore they were prepared to use all means at their disposal to smash the attempt to hold a referendum: police repression, seizing of ballot boxes, sealing off of polling stations, the sacking of the Catalan government and the arrest of its members, etc.
On the other hand, the Catalan government, made up by bourgeois and petty bourgeois nationalists, had lost the support of the Catalan bourgeoisie (the bankers and capitalists), which is opposed to independence. These nationalist politicians considered the independence referendum at worst as a way to exert pressure and extract concessions from the government in Madrid or at best, as a way to exert pressure on and force the EU to intervene and push the Spanish government to organise a mutually agreed referendum.
In the case of the bourgeois nationalist PDeCAT (formerly CDC), which was completely discredited by its right-wing austerity policies, repression and corruption scandals, there was also a cynical calculation of using independence as a way to reinvent itself and stay in power. These parties were not prepared to use the revolutionary means that are required in Spain to exercise the right of self-determination.
They were forced to go further than they intended by the irruption of the masses in the movement, a third factor that they had not taken into account. On September 20 (when 40,000 rallied against Civil Guard searches in Catalan government buildings), October 1 (when hundreds of thousands organised to ensure the referendum took place and 2 million voted) and October 3 (when millions participated in a protest general strike against brutal police repression) the masses entered the scene in a forceful way and started to become aware of their own power.
That put the Catalan government in an impossible situation: they were forced to declare the Republic, but they were not prepared to use the necessary methods to defend it: mass mobilisations in the streets, the occupation of official buildings, a general strike, resistance against the Spanish police. In other words, what was needed was a revolutionary uprising. That is what explains their vacillations, wavering and indecisiveness after the referendum, the “suspended” proclamation of the republic on October 10, the constant appeals for negotiation, the near betrayal of the movement on October 25 and the meek proclamation of the Catalan Republic on October 27, after which they fled the scene.
Meanwhile, the masses which participated in the movement (a section of the working class, the youth above all, and the middle-class and petty-bourgeois layers which are the backbone of this democratic movement) have become increasingly critical of their own leaders. The emergence of the Committees for the Defence of the Republic and the role they played in the November 8 general strike show the way forward. A Catalan Republic is a basic democratic demand that challenges the whole edifice of the Spanish regime.
Marxists support the struggle for a Catalan Republic. But we have the duty to explain that it can only be achieved by revolutionary means. That requires the current leadership to be replaced by one which is firmly based on the working class. Furthermore, the Spanish-speaking workers in Catalonia need to be won over, which can only happen if the struggle for a Republic is linked to the struggle for jobs, housing, against austerity, and is also seen as part of a wider struggle across Spain against the 1978 regime. The slogan which sums these ideas up is “For a Catalan Socialist Republic as a spark of the Iberian revolution”.
The December 21 Catalan elections did not solve anything. In fact, they represent a defeat for the Spanish monarchist regime, as supporters of independence have renewed their majority in the regional parliament and are likely will take control of the Catalan government. In parliamentary terms we are back to a situation similar to that which existed on the eve of the 1 October referendum. With ebbs and flows, the democratic national movement will continue. The task of the Marxists is to intervene energetically and reach the most advanced layers of the youth already drawing revolutionary conclusions.
Britain: the Corbyn phenomenon
Not long ago Britain was one of the most stable countries in Europe. Now it is one of the most unstable countries, experiencing one shock after another. In Scotland the national question has receded somewhat as a result of Corbyn’s surge, but it has not been resolved and can resurface with renewed force in the event of a new economic crisis. Beneath the surface of apparent tranquillity there was a seething anger, indignation and above all frustration, a burning desire to change the situation that lacked a clear point of reference.
The change in consciousness was eventually expressed in the extraordinary rise of Jeremy Corbyn. In 2015 Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party by an accident, but was immediately met with massive opposition from the Blairite wing of the party.
Theresa May saw this and drew the logical conclusion. She called a snap election in June 2017, firmly convinced that she would get a big majority and crush the Labour Party. Labour’s Blairite right wing were secretly hoping that Labour would suffer a humiliating defeat, which they saw as the only way to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn, and they attempted to sabotage the campaign.
Everyone was predicting a conservative landslide. But instead it was a crushing defeat for the Conservatives, the media and Labour’s treacherous right wing.
Once the campaign started, Jeremy Corbyn held enthusiastic mass meetings, mainly of the youth. Corbyn came out with the most left-wing programme Labour has had for decades and he immediately connected with the mood of discontent in society. No one expected this political earthquake.
Hundreds of thousands of people, mainly youth, joined the Labour Party. The membership was 180,000 before Corbyn became leader. Now it is 570,000, making Labour the biggest party in Europe. Everybody could see that the real victor in those elections was Jeremy Corbyn. He enjoys colossal support at grassroots level.
The right wing was decisively defeated at the September 2017 Labour Party conference, which showed that the left has won the majority in the party branches. Despite this, the MPs, the councillors and in particular the full-time apparatus remain under the control of the right wing. The ruling class and its agents will not easily surrender control of the Labour Party, but for the present they are compelled to abandon the attempt to get rid of Corbyn and adopt a waiting tactic.
This subterranean mood of revolt is looking for an expression. In Britain it found one in Corbyn, and it is necessary for the British Marxists to orient their forces to this movement. But while supporting Corbyn against the right wing it is necessary, in a positive and friendly manner, to patiently explain the limitations of Corbyn’s programme and the need for a thoroughgoing revolutionary programme for the socialist transformation of society.
It is likely that Labour will win the next election and Corbyn will form a government. Any attempt to implement the reforms included in his program will be met with fierce resistance from the ruling class and the active sabotage of the Blairite fifth column, as well as attempts to tame the more radical parts of his program.
A section of the ruling class is playing with the idea of a realignment in British politics, in which a new centre formation or coalition would be created with the participation of the “left” of the Conservative party and the right wing of the Labour Party. This is not an immediate perspective, but it could be implemented as a way of bringing down a Corbyn-led Labour government. In a period of political polarisation and economic crisis, however, a centre party or coalition would have very little basis. The experience in government and a possible split in the party would prepare the grounds for a further radicalisation of the ranks of the LP.
The upheavals in Ukraine and the annexation of the Crimea had a significant impact on the whole political spectrum in Russia. But the nationalist euphoria in 2014, when Putin’s index of popularity exceeded 84%, has gradually dissipated. The fall in oil prices and (to a lesser extent) Western sanctions led to a fall in the ruble exchange rate and a 13% rate of inflation in 2015.
The high refinancing rate of the Central Bank (the interest rate paid by banks when borrowing money from the Central Bank), together with the economic sanctions imposed by the West has had its most serious impact in the financial sector, which led to the bankruptcy of dozens of banks. Faced with this situation the government used financial reserves to support the biggest financial and industrial groups with close links to the state, leading to a further concentration of capital.
On the other hand, the government used administrative measures to combat unemployment, in fact, forbidding mass layoffs. To reduce the budget deficit, a number of very effective measures were introduced, aimed at reducing corruption and tax evasion. This blow was aimed mainly at the middle and petty bourgeoisie, in particular small family businesses such as the owners of lorries and delivery vans.
In addition to purely economic reasons, Putin reacted in this way to moods of protest in the middle strata in the big cities where he is least popular. Here, Putin acts on the principle “to my friends everything is permitted – to my enemies, the full force of the law.”
At the same time, a reform of the higher education system was implemented, which worsened the position of the mass of teachers and lecturers, whom Putin deemed disloyal. In this way, Putin was able to maintain a high level of support both in his own layer and among pensioners and low-paid workers at the expense of the middle layers of the big cities. The discontent of the latter found its political expression through a bourgeois demagogue, Alexei Navalny.
After 2014, all parliamentary parties, including the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), adopted a position of complete support for Putin and his government, voting in the Duma for every bill proposed by the government. Of course this does nothing to increase their popularity. For almost ten years, the CPRF has been in constant crisis. There has been a permanent witch hunt in which people were expelled from the party on trumped-up charges of “Trotskyism” – although all of them were loyal supporters of Zyuganov.
The membership of the Communist Party in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other large cities fell by two-thirds. This left a vacuum in the opposition to Putin which was successfully occupied by Navalny. He is a typical demagogue, presenting himself as “a man of the people”, slavishly copying the American tradition. But he stands out sharply in contrast to other oppositionists. The basis of his campaigning is the use of social networks and especially YouTube, where he puts out his videos about corruption in the higher echelons of power.
Navalny himself has been deprived of the right to take part in the presidential election because of two convictions on charges of corruption. Periodically Navalny calls his supporters onto the streets. The scale of these mobilisations across the country is approximately 100,000 people dispersed across major cities. Most of them are young people, who are attracted by Navalny’s apparent determination and his skillful use of social media.
Over the past year, Putin has managed to curb inflation and, in general, overcome the crisis – at least temporarily. However, with the current level of oil prices, Russia’s budget deficit remains high and in 2-5 years the reserve funds will inevitably run out, while Russia’s opportunities for external borrowing are now minimal. If the price of oil stays low for three or four more years, the whole situation will change into its opposite.
When that moment comes, Putin (who will obviously be re-elected president) will face a serious problem. The government will no longer be able to solve the budget deficit without making deep cuts in public spending. At that point his popularity will evaporate completely. That is why Putin is using every opportunity to tighten his control over the internet, and impose restrictions on freedom of speech and other democratic rights.
But for the time being Putin still has room for manoeuvre. He can avoid slashing public spending or making drastic attacks on living standards. That is the main reason why the opposition has not met with any great success in mobilizing proletarian elements.
At this stage, those who participate openly on the streets are mainly middle class and petty bourgeois. Although Navalny has advocated an increase in the minimum wage, he has not had any success in establishing a link with social problems. There is a limit to how far the opposition to Putin can succeed on the basis of democratic demands and denunciation of corruption.
Nevertheless, many young people have rallied to the opposition, especially school and university students. They have taken to the streets in significant numbers. This is an important symptomatic development. The history of Russia shows that the awakening of the student youth is a sure anticipation of a big future movement of the working class. “The wind always blows through the tops of the trees first.”
Eastern Europe and the Balkans
The rise in Eastern Europe of right-wing nationalism and anti-immigration rhetoric is an attempt on the part of the governments of the region to divert the growing malaise caused by the low standards of living and the toll imposed by the capitalist crisis on the mass of the population, in a situation where the working class has not yet decisively entered the scene.
Higher rates of GDP growth (relative to those of Western European countries) mask the reality of extreme capitalist exploitation of a skilled working class under a regime of low wages, imposed to maximise capitalist profits and foreign investment. A recent study of the European Trade Union Institute (“Why central and eastern Europe needs a pay rise”) shows that wage differentials between Western and Eastern Europe, which up until 2008 were slowly decreasing, have increased over the past decade.
As a consequence, there have been important signs of radicalisation of the youth, the first symptoms of which are the mobilisations against corruption in several countries, which reflect a growing rejection of the whole establishment. Key sections of the working class have also begun to go on the offensive on the industrial field – in many cases for the first time since the collapse of the Stalinist regimes – carrying out important strikes aimed at substantial wage increases and better working conditions.
In Slovakia, thousands of students demonstrated in April 2017 demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Robert Fico on corruption charges. This was followed in June by a massive strike of the 12,000 workers at the three VW plants in Bratislava, which won a 14% rise in wages. A 7% wage rise was also granted by KIA and Peugeot to avoid strikes, inspiring worries that the movement could spread.
Important movements have also taken place in opposition to reactionary measures. In Poland, the attacks by the right-wing government against what remains of abortion rights provoked the Black Protest movement of tens of thousands of women in October 2016, which forced the government to retreat.
In the former Yugoslavia the process of radicalisation is more advanced. A growing mood of rejection of the corrupt, reactionary bourgeois regimes on part of the youth and the working class was clearly expressed in the insurrectionary movement of February 2014 in Bosnia. Over the past year there have been significant strikes. The all-out strike of 2,400 workers of the FIAT plant in Kragujevac in July 2017 is just the most significant of a number of radical strikes in smaller factories and workplaces. Repeated strikes and protests were also carried out by the railway workers in Bosnia.
The youth protests against Vucic’s victory in the Serbian presidential election of April 2017, while broadly dominated by petty-bourgeois illusions, have revealed a growing layer of youth open to revolutionary ideas. The potential for the Yugoslav Marxists was shown by the fact that they had leading roles in the protests in Novi Sad.
To be continued…